An abridged version of this review is published in The Skinny.
Label: Gargleblast Records
Release date: 23 Feb
Glasgow singer-songwriter Michael Timmons’ long gestating debut album Bone Coloured arrives unassumingly, much like the artist himself. Aside from pre-release singles Hold on Sea and Painting, the closest fans have come to the ten-song collection would have been one of Timmons’ quietly powerful live shows, where his tall frame stands over the mic stand, shielded only with his guitar, singing, as the artist himself semi-jokingly quips, miserable songs for people who want to feel miserable too.
This full-length LP comes bolstered with production from Andy Miller, whose credits include the cream of Scottish indie music, from Mogwai to The Delgados, as well as Life Without Buildings’ cult record Any Other City. Tellingly, he also worked with Jason Molina on his Songs: Ohia project, whose legacy now looms large thanks to recent reissues which have been attracting new audiences to his work, music that was so sadly under-appreciated in his desperately short lifetime. Timmons’ reverb-laden guitar tones are atmospheric for sure, but his intimate approach rings closer to Molina’s music than the sweeping sonics of Mogwai. Without comparing Timmons to Molina, an artist whose status as a genius with a gift for melody is rapidly growing, it’s clear to see why Miller was attracted to working with him.
There’s no doubt these are dark and sombre songs, heavy with personal detail, the meaning of which is often difficult to discern. But the reason these words resonate is not their hyper-relatability but the sense of place and memory they evoke. Bone Coloured is littered with mentions of forgetting and remembering, even in the very first line of the album’s opening salvo, Painting: “Are you finished yet? Is it time to forget?”
Scottish music has a rich history of placing importance on the connection between music and memories – memory both as the impetus for songs as well as the result of them. Perhaps the most famous example is Boards of Canada, who despite creating often wordless collages, manage to rustle up recollections of childhood naivety. Timmons even references that very phenomenon on Wise: “That song played on repeat that evening, reminding you all the fog wasn’t deceiving.”
Timmons’ work is a far cry from the pioneering IDM of Boards of Canada, but he has a similar talent in imbuing lyrics with the ability to pull universality out of ambiguity. Maybe he’s talking about a fight with a loved one; maybe he’s recounting struggles with depression or loneliness. Ultimately, specificity doesn’t matter when you can be wrapped in the blanket of his soothing voice and a guitar that washes like a gently breaking wave. It makes even more sense when you learn about Timmons’ involvement with Scottish broadcaster Sally Magnusson’s Playlist for Life initiative, which trains carers to use the music people living with dementia are familiar with to help them keep connected with their loved ones and themselves.
The textures of the record also signal a marked step up for Timmons. His haunting, but rather spare, live sound is garnished with lovely flourishes that only add to the warmth of Bone Coloured, whether that be the addition of field recordings rustling under the surface of his guitar, or the seemingly electronically garbled, reverse strums that open standout track Stride.
Bone Coloured is an incredibly accomplished debut. It’s true that Timmons has a style that he’s locked into uniformly across the album, but it’s one that he’s pulling off impressively, and it’s thrilling to think that he already has new songs in the offing, with much of his debut having been pulled together over the last few years. The feeling of being uncomfortably close stirred up during each song resonates in a similar way to emo-inflected songwriters like Elliott Smith and, more recently, Julien Baker. Much like those artists, Timmons’ music reminds us that sometimes feeling miserable is ok, especially when there’s someone singing to you in solidarity at the other end of your aux cable.