Hunger and Thirst, Typhoon (Tender Loving Empire, 2010)
Review by Jeremy Alder for PopCrunch.com
One of the strange things about human desire is that we often don’t know what we want until we find it (or it’s given to us). That was the feeling I had when first listening to the album Hunger and Thirst, the second album by Portland, Oregon’s best kept secret, Typhoon. I was left wondering, “Where has this album been all my life?” It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
Typhoon has been making music together in the Portland house party scene for years, honing their massively epic sound in front of small crowds of intimate friends. This sense of familial, almost religious, intimacy pervades Hunger and Thirst. One wonders what will happen, both to the band and to the listeners, if Typhoon ever receives the broader exposure and following their music deserves.
Listening to Hunger and Thirst is like experiencing a novel or a drama unfolding within oneself. The music and Kyle Morton’s plaintive voice drives his lyrics deep within your soul so that it becomes impossible to listen as a detached observer or critic. One becomes emotionally self-involved from the start and is compelled to see the experience through to the end, as much to discover what it might do to oneself than to hear what Morton and the band comes up with next.
It was this performance for NPR at SXSW that brought Typhoon to our attention
That the album would have such an effect on listeners is no accident. Each song blends seamlessly into the next, both musically and conceptually, displaying an extremely high degree of intentionality. In an interview Morton explained that he envisioned the album as a kind of drama or classical suite, and even included an intermission halfway through. The band itself is large and diverse enough to be an orchestra or a theatrical cast, with two, sometimes three, drummers and another six to eleven members (depending on the show) playing everything from violins, to bells, to a French horn, to a glockenspiel.
Opening with “Starting Over (Bad Habit),” which begins with an announcement of a new beginning that sounds almost hopeful, and ending with “The Sickness Unto Death,” a moving look back at a life marked by depression, Morton uses the album to explore some of the deepest themes of human existence. From the elusiveness of desire (“Ghost Train” and “Old Haunts, New Cities”), to the irrational power of love (“Body of Love”), from the violence and deception concealed by civilization (“White Liars”), to faith, doubt, suffering, depression, and death (“CPR/Claws Pt. 2” and “The Sickness Unto Death”), Morton lifts up the mystery and fragility of life with all of its complexity and often discordant and dissonant undercurrents.
Morton’s lyrical artistry and complexity is more than matched by the band’s ability to offer up a multi-layered, deeply textured sound. Like the weather phenomenon from which they take their name, the band’s songs often build slowly and sparsely, climaxing with a crescendo of sound and chorusing voices, and then falling back to barely a whisper. The band takes obvious delight in making music together, and this infuses Hunger and Thirst with a kind of joyful transcendence that prevents the album from being dragged too far down by the weight of Morton’s lyrics. Indeed, there is tremendous joy and pleasure to be had by anyone willing to pay attention and be carried along by the music.
It is hard to find anything critical to say about Hunger and Thirst. Of greater concern than whatever flaws there may be in the album is that the superficial and over-processed diet fed to consumers of popular culture in America might render us incapable of recognizing and appreciating something of true depth and beauty when it comes along. Perhaps it was something akin to grace that brought this album to my attention and kept me listening long enough to realize it was exactly what I was hungering and thirsting for. Maybe it was just the really great music. Whatever it was, it came unexpectedly and undeserved. The only response that feels appropriate is gratitude.
– Jeremy Alder