There’s a place where the burned out smokestacks of the city skyline spout great plumes of inspiration and creativity. Where people say hello to each other on the street, and the hollow clink of spared change in empty cup, resounds with the warm familiarity of a childhood wind-chime. Where abandoned mills have been transformed into studios, and the proud sons and daughters of steel workers are now musicians, or creative entrepreneurs. Where is this magical place, you might ask? Well my friends, the answer might surprise you. It’s a little known place up North called Canada, which happens to be home to the Alberta born singer-songwriter, Tim Selles, who recently adopted the new moniker Timid, the Brave for his self-titled debut EP.
Suffice it to say that this debut EP bleeds tragically with equal parts promise and shortfall. But before garnering a folk manifesto of critical slander, lets back up a bit in order to better understand the context of Timid, the Braves still green EP debut.
Before Selles took on the new moniker and went solo, he carved a reputation for himself as the front man for Bruekke, a local string trio based in Ontario. Bruekke quickly became a staple folk act among the up-and-coming community of artists and musicians in the city of Hamilton, a unique post-industrial town once known for manufacturing steel. The rise and fall of depleted industry in Hamilton left a rich blue stain on the collar of the city’s historically rust-tinged infrastructure, and gave way for a local boom in creative industry that capitalized on self-sustainability, and a utilitarian approach to craft. It was with these sentiments in mind, that locally acclaimed Indy record label Other Songs Record Co., produced Bruekke’s promising debut EP, the Loft in January, 2011. Bruekke immediately went on to begin recording their first full-length album, Once Around the Sun, but by July of 2012, the distraught string trio decided to go separate ways, saying that the recording process this time around had been, “a clarifying experience.”
After Bruekkes sudden disbandment, Selles began writing what he claimed to be, “somewhat darker, more introspective songs; songs that wrestle with the disappointments of failure, the allure of departure, and the complexities of faith.” With his somber new collection of songs, Selles adopted the stage name Timid, the Brave, and spent the next three months recording his new self-titled solo EP, Timid, the Brave, which was released November 16, 2012.
The people of Hamilton commonly say, ‘Art is the new steel.’ If this encouraging local mantra bears any relevance whatsoever to Timid, the Brave, it might be in reference to its tepid emotional quality, and seemingly untempered demeanor. The album is clearly marked by a dramatic sense of loss, but most of the darkness Selles attempts to channel is washed to grey through the cleanliness of his arrangements, and his inability to deliver raw, unmitigated anguish vocally. Like most of the songs on Timid, the Brave, the title track, “Why Should I Stay?” demonstrates an articulate lyrical command, but neglects the use of any compositional tact that might sensationalize Selles’ potent songwriting abilities. After the first minute of the song, you aren’t really going to hear anything you haven’t already heard. Just new words fit back into the initial progression. This is a recurring problem throughout the whole EP, but in all fairness to Selles, simplicity and repetition have always been conventions of traditional folk music.
The second track, “Crowe River,” skillfully utilizes his delicate finger picking patterns and acoustic progressions to take us to a place of simple beauty for what feels like a contemplative stroll through the woods. The dynamic handling of vocal tracks for the whole album is balanced to a tee, and bears an unmistakable intimacy that can be likened to Bon Iver. The album peaks with tracks three and four, “Metal,” and, “My Wolves,” the former of which is the first song on the album to make use of any subtle percussion tempo. “Metal,” is one of the few songs on the EP that really indulges in a hook, and when paired effectively with the driving acoustic progression, it certainly stands strong. “My Wolves,” is sure to be the favorite of the EP, combining compelling lyrics with a more pronounced build up. Selles’ struggles are effectively portrayed in this track more than any other, however, it is also particularly evident in this track that his sound would greatly benefit from supporting musicians. Watch Bruekke’s version of “My Wolves,” on youtube, and you’ll quickly see what you’re missing.
The second half of the album, though enjoyable, tends to wash over you with the same brooding tone. No new tricks or surprises, but then again, one of the most inviting aspects of folk music– both to musicians and fans alike– is that not everyone out there with a set of strings and a story has to be reinventing the proverbial wagon wheel. Folk appreciating folks from the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters and beyond, recognize that the stories, traditions, and techniques applied widely by folk musicians are meant to be drawn from and built upon. This is what lends such a timeless quality to the genre, but it is also what tends to marginalize folk music from mainstream listeners. Even though musicians like Timid, the Brave usually don’t quite muster the moxy to hold strong on a national or mainstream level, they attest to a regional music culture that is significant within the scope of folk roots.
At the end of the day, in undeniably modest fashion, Selles’ EP serves up a warm basket of folk-hearten pleasantries that is far from intolerable, yet still severely lacking in much pronounced flavor. But at the same time, one can’t help but find something to enjoy from Timid, the Brave, even if it simply serves as unseasoned sustenance to the hungry folk listener. At the very least, you are guaranteed pure, simple, quality-driven folk music served fresh from Ontario, that has been preserved and distributed by a people-powered record label. Such bands are a triumphant model for music lovers seeking to support good local musicians, and keep their dirty dollars away from an industry’s that will inevitably tuck it into the cleavage of some god awful pop-Frankenstein.
Though this might not have been the triumphant victory that Selles was looking for, a guitar and a notebook will be all he needs to deem him armed and dangerous amidst a potential folk-revival.