Like Nick, I find the whole ‘Album Of The Year’ thing a bit hard to get my head around – it’s not so much the process of choosing a favourite from the albums I own as much as thinking about all the albums I haven’t heard, or even heard of, that I am supposedly placing below my chosen one. I always thought that album of the year lists would be much more informative if the producer of the list were to indicate just how many albums they considered when making their list. After all, non-inclusion of an album could mean it’s a stinker…or, more probably, it simply hasn’t been taken into account. The thought that my number one (out of five!!) would be weighted just a highly as someone who has got to know a hundred albums in 2014 makes the process flawed to such an extent as to surely render it worthless.
To illustrate my point, I thought I would bring Timber Timbre’s fifth album, Hot Dreams. It was released on April Fools Day yet I only became aware of it for the first time when I saw it in The Drift’s album of the year list in November(!)…at number 100. And that was it as far as I could tell (my interest in the album was actually piqued sometime later upon listening to an enthusiastic review by Anthony Fantano at his website, The Needle Drop) – having kept abreast of the majority of better known websites’ end of year lists, despite the misgivings I outlined earlier, I failed to find Hot Dreams in any other ‘best of’ list (even The Guardian newspaper, who gave the album top marks in their review and described it as a Lynchian masterpiece overlooked it in their albums of the year list). Which must make it just about the ‘least successful album of 2014 that featured in an end of year list’! Quite an accolade!
But listening to Hot Dreams reinforces to me just how arbitrary the whole thing is. Whilst not top of my list (FKA Twigs’ LP1 is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve heard this year), Hot Dreams is a fine, fine record. Cinematic, beautifully constructed, cohesive and supremely atmospheric, it is surely worthy of a bit more attention than it got. I’m not making any grand claims for Hot Dreams, it won’t change your life, I doubt you will be naming your kids after the band members and it is unlikely that it will come to be seen as the wellspring of a new genre ten years down the line but, as Nick wrote when he was commenting on Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over, music doesn’t always have to shift the world off its axis; sometimes providing the listener with what is, ultimately, just an enjoyable, transformative and captivating forty minutes is enough. And that’s something that Hot Dreams does for me in spades; from the leaden, ominous opener of Beat the Drum Slowly, to the ever evolving and creepy Run From Me, via the towering peaks of The Grand Canyon, The Low Commotion and, perhaps the most beautiful song I heard in all of 2014, the album’s title track, the only thing that stops Hot Dreams being a stone cold classic, for me, is the final instrumental track, The Three Sisters, which has, so far, failed to capture my imagination in the way the rest of the record has.
But, minor quibble aside, Hot Dreams is surely an unlucky record from an unlucky band that deserves greater recognition than last place in the ‘Great 2014 EOY Lists Competition’ (especially when you consider how said competition was won by a fine sounding, but pretty unremarkable, album of guitar based rock music).
Rob listened: Loved it. Also, I shared Tom’s confusion as to why this record didn’t get more plaudits and wider coverage during the year. I assume it’s something to do with Timber Timbre trading in well-established tropes and genre-signifiers. (SARCASM ALERT!) Understandably this would put them way behind The War On Drugs. It’s a shame because sometimes bands try new things for the sake of doing so when, judging by the outcomes, they probably shouldn’t have bothered, whilst others find some new angle through which to approach well-worn surfaces and in doing so make those shine anew. So well done Timber Timbre for breathing dry, desert air into Lynchian balladry in the Tex Mex dramamine dancehall, producing a work that sounds like John Barry soundtracking Jim Ballard’s ‘Earth Is The Alien Planet: The Musical!’
I liked it a lot.
Nick listened: I’d never heard of Timber Timbre before tonight, and I imagine that was part of the problem in terms of end-of-year plaudits; some stuff gets pitched at critics (and audiences) as potential end-of-year-bait from the moment “Auld Lang Syne” dies down, and other stuff just doesn’t get talked about at all. I received PR emails and Jiffy Bags full of promo CDs and photocopied press releases for years (I still get the damn emails) and I still don’t fully understand the mechanics by which our collective tastes are made. There’s a PhD thesis to be written on the cultural mechanics and social psychology of it. (There’s also the simple mechanic that album reviews are written by individuals, and lists are compiled by groups who often simply haven’t all heard the same records; the freelancers writing for The Guardian don’t sit around sharing an office, for instance; I doubt many of them have ever even met.)
Anyway, I’m not sure I got all the subtleties of the Tex Mex signifiers – to me this was kind of like early Portishead (in terms of atmospheres and partial sonics, if not post-hip-hop mechanics) transposed to anywhere in the States. I enjoyed it, but it’s not so much of a catnip-y sound for me as it obviously is for Tom and Rob. What I did love was the saxophone – I wish there’d been more of Colin Stetson. But nonetheless, an intriguing, well-crafted record that I enjoyed listening to, and which didn’t deserve to be ignored the way it seems to have been.