Slim Twig is a young man from Toronto named Max Turnbull and, among other things, his work makes the case that Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” might well be a cultural high-water mark. He’s by no means a novelty act, however; Turnbull takes underground art seriously and literally, releasing spooky, risen-from-the-grave albums like A Hound at the Hem that feature multi-layered, sophisticated pop songs mired in misdirection and haunted-house trickery.
When he was the toast of Toronto a few years ago, Slim Twig was an intriguing cultural cross between John Waters, Vincent Price, and Gene Pitney—high-minded, campy, and playful enough to draw us into his surreal world of rockabilly blues and horror. A precocious theatre kid at the time (his parents are filmmakers Ross Turnbull and Jennifer Hazel; he himself played Ellen Page’s love interest in The Tracey Fragments), he took as much care of his visual persona—a nattily dressed, pompadour-sporting crypt-keeper—as he did his music. However divisive, he was Canada’s great grey hope for an unlikely moment, shielding us from the restless, driving spirt within.
His work has drawn comparisons to wily shape-shifters like David Bowie, Suicide, Nick Cave/The Birthday Party, and David Lynch, all of whom have certainly drawn power from the same hair-raising darkness that feeds Slim Twig. He recorded A Hound at the Hem in 2010 but shelved it in favor of a more palatable album called Sof’ Sike. Apparently Hound’s edgy, mind-altering textures were a bit much for anyone accustomed to the comparably direct, accessible releases he’d dispatched up to this point. For all of his slick grit, nothing seemed to spook him and his business associates as much as the enigmatic A Hound at the Hem, which, after a small self-released run in 2012, is finally reaching a wider audience via DFA.
The record starts so beautifully with “Heavy Splendour”‘s soothing string arrangement by Owen Pallett and executed by St. Kitt’s string quartet. But the progression deliberately goes awry. Turnbull’s penchant for dramatically off-kilter musical flourishes and gestures means that an infectious pop progression is often perverted and unsettled; some kind of howling, dissatisfied specter possesses each song’s eerie soundscape.
A Hound at the Hem has been framed as a call-back to Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier’s 1971 masterpiece Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is a loose but orchestral concept record inspired by Vladmir Nabokov’s Lolita. Turnbull’s adaptation of his source material is distorted and murky, barely articulating notions of ill-advised romance before reflecting them in a funhouse mirror. He adopts different voices, calling and responding with himself, as he utters mostly indecipherable lyrics. Rather than firm intent, he primarily conveys foreboding attitude and an outsider’s cold-as-ice swagger. On “Clerical Collar”, he sounds like Jim Morrison fronting a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, strains of “L.A. Woman” seeping through with a creepy choir of low and high voices emerging during every chorus.
A Hound at the Hem is a twilight zone of madness and provocation. As the album unfolds, Slim Twig rarely ever sounds like the same guy, each song (hell, each verse) presenting multiple personalities and tones of expression. Its hard-psych is ugly, alluring carnival music that warps and melts before us just as we begin to trust it. Through it all though, there’s an undercurrent of humor and fun; Turnbull’s active imagination stretches out for miles and he comes across as a twisted visionary on his most accomplished album yet.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1EYD45N