Decaying Blues

Decaying blues, psychedelic folk noir, ghost gospel – the music of Timber Timbre builds haunting songs with the smouldering-ember feel of frontman Taylor Kirk’s lonesome voice.

They’re hard to categorize, even though there are clear influences from Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, ’50s doo-wop and Wild West frontier ragtime piano.

Timber Timbre, playing in Dawson and Whitehorse this weekend, started as an intensely personal project that resulted in Taylor releasing Cedar Shakes in 2006.

By the third lo-fi album in 2009, the eponymous Timber Timbre was long-listed for the Polaris Prize.

Originally from rural Ontario, Kirk by now had a dedicated following in Canada, in the US (National Public Radio loved and still loves him; and the television show Breaking Bad picked up his Neil Young-inspired song “Magic Arrow), and in France.

Kirk, now based in Toronto, gradually grew Timber Timbre into a full band when Mika Posen (brooding, delicate or stormy violin) and Simon Trottier (melting, scratching or aching lap steel guitar) joined him in occasional live performances, and then the studio, starting in 2009.

Creep On Creepin’ On, out just this April, is more lush than the earlier releases, but remains devoted to telling stories in a slow, spell-casting swirl.

In “The Heart is a Lonesome Hunter” this is done by sheer repetition – piano chords and Kirk’s magnetic voice build an incantation that gives equal parts beauty and creep to lines like: “Well I’m standing holding my head /And I’m staring through a hole in your head /And I been feeling like a zombie baby /I am a zombie coming slow to your bed.”

The more slowly the story is told, the more tense and haunting the teller can become, but somehow it’s all still toe-tapping. Not the poppy “picnic by a graveyard” feel of some of the White Stripes’ songs about ghosts, nor the Carnivale approach that Tom Waits takes to bring altered states of reality into daylight, but more the gut-wrenching beauty of Michael Gira’s recent songs.

“All I need is some sunshine … deliverance from malaise … you’re the only spirit that I crave,” a deep sea diver sings from his broken diving suit, in “Black Water”.

Saxophones and swinging piano chords back the ghost’s tale of obsession and deliverance. The afterlife is a major player in Creep On Creepin’ On, in fact, though it’s not always clear whether it’s a life after death or a parallel, altered state of being.

“Woman” is a good example of a psychedelic seep between multiple worlds. But decay is part of the trajectory of longing, so there’s nothing to fear.

Kirk began the writing Creep On Creepin’ On in 2008 and then built the tracks and more fully during a residency in Sackville, New Brunswick in June of 2010. Other musicians appearing on the album include acclaimed pianist Mathieu Charbonneau and saxophonist Colin Stetson.

Timber Timbre comes North after an April-May tour in Europe and the UK, and the Yukon performances are early on in their cross-Canada tour.

The addition of suspenseful, spooky and cinematic music to the start of the Yukon summer is thanks to a co-production by the Yukon Arts Centre, Dawson City Music Festival and the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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