Timothy’s Monster (Rune Grammofon)
by Phil Freeman
This Norwegian band’s name suggests that they might be a winking metal-ish act like Turbonegro, but at least on the basis of this evidence, they’re not really even metal-adjacent. (Reviews and Wikipedia suggest that their first three albums—Lobotomizer, 8 Soothing Songs for Rut and Demon Box—were harder and heavier.) They’ve got well over a dozen albums, and this four-CD box is a reissue of number five, originally released in 1994.
The box contains the original two-CD album, an earlier version on Disc Three, and a fourth disc of outtakes, EP tracks and other leftovers. There’s also a testimonial booklet and a foldout poster with the lyrics.
Most of the album sounds, to my ear, like ’90s alternative rock as practiced on American college radio; the second track on Disc One, “Trapdoor,” is practically a Cure cover, and others feature jangling guitars and diffidently howled skinny-guy-with-floppy-bangs vocals like every third band on MTV’s 120 Minutes back in those days. The bass is huge, bulging the mix like a pig bulges a boa constrictor, and Mellotron and flute and other ’70s touches allow them to throw a few surprises at the listener. But still, a song like “Kill Some Day” mostly just makes me think about the American song it almost sounds like (something by Nirvana, but I’ll let you figure it out for yourself). It’s a weird feeling. At the same time, they do psychedelic revival stuff like “On My Pillow” that seems rooted in late ’80s UK acts like very early Primal Scream. There are some very cool, unexpected touches, though, like the rumbling, Merzbow-esque static that’s present all the way through the 10-minute “Giftland” without ever affecting the rest of the song. And the closing track on Disc One, “Watersound,” takes many of My Bloody Valentine‘s good ideas, while avoiding the druggy tedium of that band’s (wildly overpraised) work.
The album’s second disc has only four tracks, two of which are well past 10 minutes long. “The Wheel,” which kicks off the disc, runs 16:57, and combines Krautrock drumming with organ and gentle guitar that remind me of Led Zeppelin‘s “No Quarter.” But about a third of the way through, the ultra-loud bass comes roaring to the fore and the track becomes something that, live, would seem like the world was being torn down and rebuilt. The seven-minute “Grindstone,” which lives up to its title, is easily the heaviest track on the whole double disc, with vocals that sound like Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell circa Ultramega OK minus the high notes over a relentless, looping riff and hammering drumbeat—until it ends with a minute and a half of shrieking, repetitive noise that’s like the untitled hidden track on the Flaming Lips‘ Hit to Death in the Future Head remixed by Alec Empire. In between these two moments of indisputable glory, though, there’s a pretty disposable acoustic track, “Sungravy.” Closing out the disc (and Timothy’s Monster as a whole) is the drifting, Kraut-psych drone-rock exercise “The Golden Core,” which combines surging guitars, Mellotron, marimba and lackadaisically chanted vocals until the listener is nearly comatose, before gradually surging in its final three minutes and bringing the album to a semi-triumphant end.
What’s most interesting about Timothy’s Monster, ultimately, is the production (which the band handled themselves). The mix (which hasn’t been in any way boosted or compressed for this reissue, according to the booklet) is weird; all the “wrong” instruments seem to be dominant in a way that’s absolutely impossible to reproduce in a live context. As much as I love the sound of a band playing together in a room (cf. Grand Funk Railroad‘s red album), totally studio-dependent records can be really cool, too, and this is one of those.
The fourth disc is anticlimactic and strictly fans-only; the best tracks are alternate takes of TM songs (“Leave It Like That,” “On My Pillow”), and the album versions are clearly superior. There are some cover songs (Hüsker Dü‘s “New Day Rising,” Kiss‘s “Shock Me,” Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Workin’ for MCA”), the latter two of which are surprising in their commitment to honoring the source material. Most mid ’90s covers of mainstream rock songs were opportunities for the bands in question to look down on FM radio cheese they viewed (incorrectly) as vastly inferior to their own work and that of their immediate peers. Motorpsycho take a different approach; their version of Skynyrd sounds remarkably Mudhoney-esque, but the Kiss song is pure metal, with nary a wink or smirk in sight. Good for them.