Typhoon - A A New Kind of House (EP)

Tender Loving Empire

The past year has been a busy one for Kyle Morton and the ever-malleable Typhoon. Last May saw the release of their highly-praised first (real) full-length album, Hunger and Thirst which has been at the very top of innumerable Best of 2010 lists, both locally and nationally. And rightfully so.

Hailing from Salem, Typhoon was conceived about five years ago as a songwriting project between Morton and percussionist Devin Gallagher. An eponymous album was released within a year of the band’s inception. After a hiatus that began in 2008 and ended a year later, the band regrouped and have been hard at work ever since- Hunger and Thirst and this EP being the product of those efforts.

There appear to be somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or ten core members in the band including two ladies in the string section, three guys in the brass section and two in the drumming contingent with two more percussionists, with bassist Toby Tanabe and guitarist Dave Hall playing in support of Morton on guitar. Many are founding members- undaunted, apparently, by the unwieldy.

All, among the dozen or so people listed as contributors to this project, lend vocal support. A rock ensemble to execute a choral symphony, to be sure. Can Beethoven’s 9th be far behind?

A New Kind of House is not some compendium of rejected tracks from the album. Not in the least. The five songs presented here show a definite, fully-realized progression in terms of Typhoon‘s approach.

Perhaps the most obvious point in support of this assertion is the extenuation of the song “Claws Pt.2, from Hunger and Thirst. The sequel, “Claws Pt. 1” (don’t ask me), is performed far more powerfully here than its predecessor. One would hope the band decides to do an updated version of the song on everything they release.

However, the first song of this set, “The Honest Truth” is targeted as the single. It is not unlike “Starting Over,”  the first song on Hunger and Thirst, in that the new song similarly creeps in on little cat feet; before exploding into the full complement of instrumentation- which matches the drama of Morton’s woe-wrought tale of  thoughtful despair.

“The Honest Truth” lurches along on sputtering brass; sliding on the double-time quadruplets of Morton’s acoustic guitar flurries. The song itself sounds as if it could have fallen from Colin Meloy’s guitar case- though, lyrically they differ substantially: Morton being more direct and not so inclined to aspire to be the Edmund Spenser of the 21st century. Nor are their voices similar at all.

Kyle’s voice is worn and world-weary, finely encrusted with a coat of many sorrows; an impassioned vibrato fluttering lightly beneath: full, rich and evocative. Those familiar with Peter Gabriel’s work with Genesis in the 70s (especially the Foxtrot/Selling England By The Pound period) could probably find antecedents in Kyle’s vocals. A cool brass interlude ends the song.

The driving 6/4 time signature is impetus for “Summer Home,” another song that takes some time to coalesce. An exquisite rhythmic clatter builds to a peak before dissolving into a beautiful, windswept chorus; limbing sweetly great trees of sound. It’s a song of lost love, or lost family, or both. Evocative of antique sunlight through a spring sky window.

As mentioned, “Claws Pt. 1” is absolutely wrenching in its presentation. Like it’s predecessor, it seems to be almost a collection of several songs, neatly knitted together. If not, then the arrangement gives that impression, all the same. It is not a reconstruction of the former song, instead embroiders the cloth of that song with new emblemation. It’s a tributary of Pt. 2- but, perhaps, more to the point, more complete than the first version.

It also answers the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? According to Typhoon, the chicken came first.

The song begins building from where it left off on Hunger and Thirst– a toy piano, or glockenspiel, and what sounds like a banjo flit behind the scene, lapping waves on the glistening musical surface. An angular, guitar/bass (?) theme bounds across the verse, slowly adding depth and movement. Then they advance upon the dramatic turn in the middle of the song.

Through the course of the “Claws” suite, David Hall’s forlorn lead-guitar broods impatiently, a gather of dark clouds- before finally pouring forth, in a deluge, the signature riff. While in its former incarnation it was a twangy, passing riff, here it sounds as if all the sky is crying; soaring, a swooping swoon.

Hall is met by an impassioned vocal chorus and the entire delegation of brass and strings- which melt into a gorgeously evocative guitar solo that carries the song out to its extended fade. A masterpiece.

The short song, “Kitchen Tile,” maintains a householding theme that pervades the entire work. The Home: A Concept Album. The composition sounds as though the kitchen tile in question were actually used for acoustic reverb in places within the song.

On “Firewood,“ Kyle plunks out a familiar progression a homely upright piano, singing in his upper register- sounding a little like Neil Young on his song “Birds” from After the Goldrush. A somewhat somber procession dirges sweetly in 3/4 time, enembered of radiant hearth. Warm and familial. All gathered: funereal, a melancholy second line; dancing through the streets of the spirit.

We in Portland are very fortunate. “Portlandia” notwithstanding, there aren’t many places in the country, or in the world for that matter, that can claim to nurture such a fertile creative community. The music being generated in this city is second to none. There are ten or twenty really great, world-class bands from Portland floating around out there. It would be remiss not to place Typhoon near the top of that list.

© 2011 Buko Magazine

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