Given that he plays almost all the instruments, performs all the vocals, and handles all the production, Slim Twig passes through A Hound at the Hem with rather startling anonymity.
That is to say that by the end of the Toronto artist’s sprawling and ambitious progressive pop LP, fantastic as it sounds, there aren’t a handful of signature moments of individual brilliance to look back on: no flashes of impressive vocal range or virtuoso instrumental solos, and no calling attention to anything that might draw attention away from the meticulously constructed whole. Although he may create all the pieces, Twig’s true talent lies in putting them all together.
“My aesthetic is really kind of a collage-based thing where I’m constantly in the process of consuming culture, whether music or films or other art, and kind of blending those up and presenting them as something that’s in my own voice,” says Twig, born Max Turnbull, on the phone from Toronto. “My stuff is really idea driven. If I hear something that really intrigues me, it goes into the blender.”
Since critical buzz carried him up from the city’s underground scene in 2008, Twig’s proverbial blender has hardly stopped spinning. His catalog speaks to a restless creative streak: Along with two solo LPs and EPs as Slim Twig, he produced wife Meg Remy’s album, GEM, as US Girls, and played punk rock with Tropics before transitioning to his current band project, Darlene Shrugg. Plus he’s starred in several Canadian indie flicks. And then there was the two volumes of his free mixtape Spit It Twig!, a Madlib-referencing nod to sample-based hip-hop. Wherever he wants to go creatively, there’s a vehicle that can get him there.
“As Slim Twig, I approach the music as a project, as a framework of ideas that I’m working from and a vision of what I’m after,” he explains. “I don’t have distinctions in my mind where I’m switching over from one to the next. It’s more like contributing to a project very specifically and kind of chipping away at it.”
That takes us back to Hound, which was self-released in limited quantities in 2012 by Twig when his label, Paper Bag Records, passed on it. Re-released by DFA Records in October, the album, which follows a loosely conceptual narrative based on Lolita, showcases Twig in Brian Wilson mode, conjuring the spirits of psychedelic horror soundtracks, warped prog-rock, and elegant orchestral music with gleeful abandon, but also with purpose. With his forthcoming new music, Twig hopes to dive further into arranging the whole sonic world, rather than enacting everything about it.
“My new stuff is the same: taking the idea of an album that already exists, using that as a jumping-off point for my own imagination,” he says. “I do have a voice within the music that is my own and isn’t just the grafting of influences or whatever, but that is a tradition in all kinds of culture making, not just music.”
SLIM TWIG W/ US GIRLS. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS AVE., CAMBRIDGE. MON 1.19. 8PM/$10/18+. SLIM-TWIG.COM