Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
When Taylor Kirk and his bandmates in Timber Timbre set out for France a year ago to record their newest record, Sincerely, Future Pollution, they envisioned a sound you could dance to, that was worthy of celebration. For more than a decade, the Montreal-based band — led by Kirk, who handles much of the writing and recording — has explored the gnarled and shadowy corners of rock, evolving from sun-bleached cabin beams (Timber Timbre) to '70s country twang (Hot Dreams). None of it has exactly been the stuff that gets one shaking, outside of a narcotized sway in the corner of a plywood bar. Sincerely, Future Pollution isn't, either. But maybe it's not the time to dance.
"I had the idea that we could do something that was fun. Which ... we can't," laughed Kirk in a measured whisper from a phone in his rehearsal space in eastern Montreal.
Instead, Sincerely, Future Pollution is another window into Kirk's sweetly darkened sensibility, this time filtered through holistic collaborations with Timber Timbre's supporting cast, keyboardist Mathieu Charbonneau and guitarist/bassist Simon Trottier. Along for the ride are a wealth of prototypical electronics the trio found in that French studio where they recorded their sixth album. "We were using a palette that I didn't feel was ours," said Kirk. Those unfamiliar instruments lend the album a patina of Reaganism, a vintage sound that feels all too relevant these days.
Sincerely, Future Pollution deals with that unease most directly on "Western Questions," which opens with a sweeping guitar melody before sinking into a burlesque swoon. Kirk exhales: "International witness protection / Through mass migration / The imminent surrender of land. Tucked in safety / At the counter of a luxury liner / With a noose in my hand." It's evocative of urban failure and our modern dilemma of slick disbelief. It ends, improbably, with a celebratory drum bridge worthy of Phil Collins and a guitar hook as indelible and catchy as Hall & Oates could hope for.
"Moment" might be the most beautiful and affecting love song Timber Timbre — a band that has always possessed a brilliance for capturing frustrated laments to the unrequited — has ever written. It opens, after a wash of those chronologically-frozen synths, with a buried bass and a self-questioning drumline, while Kirk quietly speak-sings: "Timing's off / And everything's lost / And I know it. / Elixirs wear off / And each dose the cost / Of a memory." The frustration of feeling undeserving, of loving what you have in your hands despite that shame, is run ashore by the song's ending, a jagged, perpendicular tantrum of pure frustration. (That character in "Moment," questioning what he deserves, his agency, and the means to keep or throw it away, is a continual presence in Kirk's work.)
Sincerely, Future Pollution is an agitated document for surreal times. Where Timber Timbre would previously beckon us into its slinking visions of wintertime woods or 16mm strip clubs, this time Kirk is drawn toward us. The group sounds, understandably, wary of the reversal.
Sincerely, Future Pollution is out April 7 on City Slang Records.