TIMBER TIMBRE with COLD SPECKS at Massey Hall (178 Massey Hall), Friday (May 23), 8 pm. $18.94. RTH. See listing.
The first lines that Taylor Kirk sings on the new Timber Timbre album are like the sonic version of a Rorschach test for the listener's relationship with race.
"I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance... with a black woman," Kirk croons on the first single and title track, Hot Dreams.
The phrase sticks out as something deliberate yet motivationally unclear. It doesn't sound natural coming from anyone but an old man, and serves as a reminder of the not-so-distant past. You assume that Kirk is performing a character. It practically demands that you ask yourself how you feel about it, and why.
"Every night when I sing that line there's a gasp, or a kind of choke, or some kind of reaction from the audience," says Kirk, who is sensitive and shy in person, as we sip coffee in a Parkdale diner. "It's received differently every time. In some towns there's a lot of cheering for that line. In the South in particular, they really liked it, even when the audience was a broad mix of people. It's very weird."
Timber Timbre albums have often been crafted around the moods and textures of certain genres and eras, without attempting to actually reproduce the formal qualities.
The band's 2009 self-titled album, for instance, was based on the feeling of certain old blues records, while Creep On Creepin' On borrowed ideas from doo-wop. With Hot Dreams, he's looking instead to classic soul and setting aside some of the more overtly macabre themes of his previous work. But despite his attempts to bring out the more sensual qualities, Hot Dreams is still indisputably dark.
"Creepy is the sexy side of scary, in a way. There's something subtly scary about it."
The video for Hot Dreams is as creepy and eerie as we've come to expect from Timber Timbre, setting the spooky country soul ballad in a particularly depressing strip club. It's not the first place that comes to mind for Kirk's music, though he tells me he's met a dancer at Club Paradise who used music from his last album for her stage show.
"I was blown away. To me it was the ultimate compliment somehow. In my experiences going to those places, it tends to be really aggressive music that gets played, and not music that I find sensual in any kind of way. The idea that she found it was able to work in that world and be acceptable was kind of exciting for me."