Dustin Tessier's been doing the work. If you read a little about his Timbre Ghost project, it's clear that it's the avenue for exorcising a lot of emotions. He's looking to make music that blooms out of the ashes of whatever life challenges came before, and he's got a determination and a drive that comes through clearly in his interviews and promotional materials and social-media posts.
Of course, as anyone who reads this column knows, we attempt to focus on the music - and the music alone - here. That's not to say that there aren't things about peoples' lives that can help shed light on their art or help one understand where an artist is coming from a little better. It's just to say that music should ideally be able to stand on its own, without needing any supplemental information. So, the question is, does "Life, Death, & Disintegration" exist successfully, without any backstory?
The answer: heck, yeah. What we've got here is a dude making simple, chilled-out guitar music. Three chords and the truth. Drilling down further, this is stuff influenced by (or similar to) artists like Neil Young and Will Oldham, and even people like Radiohead and Trampled by Turtles. The eight-song "Life, Death, & Disintegration" (we're not gonna count the needless "radio edits" of two album tracks that are tacked onto the end) is about simplicity, humanity and directness, at least in its sonics.
A song like "Melody" has its own role on the record - to be a sort of bare-bones marriage of Jackson Browne and the Beach Boys - and it doesn't really sound like the other songs around it, but it slots in just fine with them because of its structure and approach.
"Empty Sky" is an uptempo Crazy Horse/My Morning Jacket hybrid, with Tessier's crisp voice soaring over it, painting images of open roads, starry heavens, fresh starts and crumbling worlds. It's pleasant and gently grooving, with harmonies that bolster the main melodies really well. (There are, in fact, a lot of solid-yet-subtle hooks on this album.)
"Pay No Mind" is built around a drone and some Andy Summers-like guitar lines. It practically begs to be put in a film where someone, determined, drives in a rainstorm with a furrowed brow. The only issue with this one is that it never truly splits open and lets loose with the deluge that is earned - after three-plus minutes of tension-building, the song is unceremoniously snuffed out with the sound of a tape machine coming to a stop.
That's maybe the only real criticism of the record as a whole - it sometimes is a bit too timid to go to the really fantastic places that it actually seems to want to go. "Lay Low" could benefit from some crunchy guitar overdubs here and there, "Coming Down" just begs for some melodic strings sawing away in the background, and the hypnotic "Alone" (which features singing and piano from Tessier's fellow former Duluthian Mary Bue) could certainly stand to be psychedelicized, especially as the outro gains steam through repetition. Some nice tremolo guitar, for example, would've added a bit more movement and drama.
So, there are a few spices missing, and there are times where Tessier's vocals are a bit buried in the mix or seem too tentative. But, overall, it's quality stuff. Tessier's really got something here, but he still has plenty of room to further flesh out his Ghost in the future.
Artist: Timbre Ghost
Album: "Life, Death, & Disintegration"
Recorded at: Blue Bell Knoll Studios, Minneapolis
Produced by: Dustin Tessier
Personnel: Dustin Tessier (vocals, guitar, drums, etc.), numerous guests in various capacities
Upcoming show: 8 p.m. Saturday with Sarah Krueger and Superior Siren at Blush, 18 N. 1st Ave.
Tickets: $7, 21 and older