25 Nov 2023

Review: Lovage by Timber Timbre

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 25 November 2023
Taylor Kirk

Photo: Victoria Baczynska

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Canadian band Timber Timbre have been releasing music since 2005, but it was on their 2009 self-titled record that they found their voice, leaving behind the roughly recorded hayseed stomp-alongs in favour of blues-inflected, slightly sinister ballads.

That sound has been consistent ever since, and consistently rewarding. They’re an act you want to stay in their lane, because the songs they make inside it are the kind that linger, creeping up on you in the best way.

The piano melody in that song is so affable, you might miss the unsettling lyrics about Frankenstein and “Dr Jekyll’s Hyde”. There’s even the word “creeping”, which showed up in an earlier Timber Timbre album, Creep on Creepin’ On

The song is called ‘Confessions of Dr Woo’, which sounds like a forgotten b-movie, and the music reflects that in its abstract latter half, a collection of spooky noises.   

When he sings “there’s something weird about that dude,” Taylor Kirk could almost be talking about himself, and It’s that embrace of the unnerving which helps set his songs apart from those of his peers. This seventh album, Lovage, begins with the cheerful, trouble-in-suburbia track ‘Ask the Community’, asking a very pointed question.

Kirk is blessed with a distinctive honeyed baritone, or maybe worked to achieve it - he sounded quite different on earlier recordings. It’s a perfect fit for songs with one foot in traditional balladry, another somewhere more ambitious. 

For a while he was the sole member of the band, but a few musicians have been regularly joining him on the past few albums. Saxophonist and multireedist extraordinaire Colin Stetson was an ongoing collaborator, but he’s absent here. The brass is missed, but other guests pop up, like the backing vocalists who help make the warm chorus in ‘Stops’ all the more inviting.

Elsewhere, ‘Sugar Land’ could be riffing on drug use or consumerism, but on its surface it’s Kirk bemoaning his lack of self-control around sweet treats, including the line “liquid gold confectionary/ What's inside the maple tree?”.

As Timber Timbre songs go, that’s one of the funnier ones. But Kirk saying he can’t stop eating sugar, then concluding, “why should I?”, hints at some of the defiant, punk-tinged attitude behind this project. 

Track one ends with the repeated line “isn’t it nice to feel better?”, intentionally banal and unthreatening. The last song is ‘Lovage’, presumably named after the plant, but hinting at something more sincere in its repetition of “barely held together just like everything else”. Acceptance of a flawed relationship, or maybe the whole human condition, regardless it’s genuinely lovely.