Tim Exile

Listening Tree

Given their name, their ethos, and the recorded perversity of the bulk of their personnel, it was always only a matter of time before Warp Records actually released a whole album that sounded like it had been left on a stereo in the sun for months. Still, while that particular responsibility might have more predictably been adhered to by usual suspects like James or Jenkinson, it actually ends up being taken on by Planet Mu emigre Tim "Tim Exile" Shaw. Brilliantly, however, not only is his latest work somewhat skippy sonically, but it’s also the ideal showcase for a sense of scope that borders on the demented.

Admittedly, you couldn’t quite describe this as a concept album, but it is symphonic of sweep, contains tracks that allude back to one another, and features a remarkable progression on the part of its protagonist. Its opening lyric may be a declaration of love tinged with bittersweetness, but after a spell of dealing strictly with the personal, finally dismissing it thematically with ‘There’s Nothing Left Of Me And Her But This’, he moves into a treatise on how modern life is oblivious to consequence. This theme proves to be a useful peer to such similarly recession-conscious tracks as Petit Mal’s superb ‘Crisis In The Credit System’ or Hadouken!’s oddly prescient ‘Spend Your Life’ and sets him up for the satanic-carnival-barker schtick of ‘Carouselle’. Then, having moved increasingly into character games, he embraces the fantastical fully with the title track, a plateau-surfing flourish with the arcane rococo air of David Sylvian and closes proceedings as an omniscient narrator adrift in the poignantly epic disconnect of ‘I Saw The Weak Hand Fall’. Calling it audacious scarcely does it justice.

And then, amid the continuous shifting of time and axis, there’s the music itself, which turns out to be whoppingly-great-but-led-down-intoxicatingly-wrong-paths pop nuggets galore. ‘Don’t Think We’re One’, for starters, blends the ebullience of Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘I Believe’ and dashes of cherubic synthesised harp with frequent minor-chord meanderings and a tendency to implode out of phase at unforeseen moments. ‘When Every Day’s A Number’, meanwhile, somehow manages to be simultaneously minimalist and dense, its hints of misfiring clockwork and wormhole-wandering dubstep casting him as a cousin of Benga, and ‘Family Galaxy’ projectile-vomits its vocals out with the drama, risk and angular disorientation of swords approaching a magician’s boxed assistant before collapsing into luminous windmilling jungle. Best of all, ‘Fortress’ is a riot of sturm-und-drang that gives the impression of being something prime Propaganda could have recorded had Trevor Horn only thought to ease off on the restraint. On this evidence, Tim Exile makes for a more than welcome addition to any household, and, at least as much as any of his labelmates’ offerings of the last 15 years, Listening Tree absolutely demands to be heard.

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