Last year, Canadian gothic-folk quartet Timber Timbre released a splashy synth-infused screed against a seedy urban underbelly. The narrative landscape and sonic approach to Sincerely, Future Pollution couldn’t be much further from what was found in the remote Ontario log cabin where Timber Timbre used to record and from which they drew their arboreal name. In promoting that LP as their fourth album, rather than their sixth, the band has essentially disavowed their first two small-scale, independently-released records as juvenilia, making 2009’s self-titled album the band’s debut LP in name if not in fact. And as a listener, we’re better for it, because Timber Timbre introduces us to a band arriving fully-formed, one whose kitsch-meets-craftsmanship approach and sparsely instrumented yet robustly ominous aesthetic yields a stark, atmospheric collection of music.

Frontman Taylor Kirk dons the roles of both mystic and harbinger throughout an album rife with sinister supernatural imagery. He’s a poetic lyricist, capable of deftly switching gears from ornate fabulism to gruesome grittiness at the drop of a hat, lyrics that are only heightened in their portent when delivered by his dusky croon. “Magic Arrow” best encapsulates Timber Timbre’s mesmerizing ability to do so much with so little. Otherwise limited to a thrumming bass-and-percussion beat that barely rises above a murmur, the track is driven by the sporadic repetition of an ominous guitar riff and Kirk’s measured yet compelling vocal as he sings in both praise and fear to an apocalyptic archer cutting down an army of pale-horse-riding hellions.

“Demon Host” opens the album with similarly malevolent minimalism; Kirk is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar as he lyrically renders a gothic atmosphere both sincere and oddly playful, summed up in the line “Oh Reverend, please, can I chew your ear?,” which, given all the ghoulish imagery used throughout this record, would seem to bear a double meaning. Kirk unrepentantly indulges macabre leanings throughout the album. On the organ-driven “Lay Down in the Tall Grass,” he sings as a narrator lying in wait for an object of his obsession while holding onto “nothing but a piece of rope.” When he sings, “I’ll be dreaming every night of you,” it’s not a compliment, but a threat. That menace takes a turn for the gruesomely surreal when he describes that, in the aforementioned dream, “you dug me out of this shallow grave/ With your Swiss army knife,” and though he was “so badly decomposed” he could nevertheless be revived by one person only. This is how Timber Timbre does love songs.

Kirk can lean a bit too heavily on Halloween-esque imagery at times. Amid the mournful violin and lazy acoustic guitar in “No Bold Villain,” he sings “I was a spook for you/ Another ghoul,” and by the eighth and final track of the album, the generic ghost imagery feels somewhat uninspired. But that’s a rare exception on an album that brims with a compelling approach to menace and gloom. Paranoia also courses through the album, as on “We’ll Find Out” when Kirk addresses a fugitive on the run who could “not accept the fate of three thousand volts through you.” And he also sings of being haunted not by what is but by what could be on “Until the Night Is Over,” singing, “But it’s not here now/ It’s the chance of it I hate.”

Now four albums (or six, but who’s counting?) into their career, Timber Timbre has never distilled their grim aesthetic sensibilities more purely than they do on their self-titled album, one which subverts folksy melodies with coffin-dark imagery. Creep On Creepin’ On (2011) would revel in lush string arrangements and Hot Dreams (2014) would add Mellotron and sultry sax from Colin Stetson to their repertoire, allowing Timber Timbre to explore new textures before an outright embrace of ‘80s-era synths on Sincerely, Future Pollution. But you’d have a hard time finding a more effective approach to beautiful doom than these eight sparsely-arranged tracks in which the most important instrument is Kirk’s portentous voice.

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