Breakups can make people do strange things. The most common outcome is sadness, as you likely question what you could have done to make it work, or what you might have been able to say so your loved one didn’t walk away. And from initial or eventual sadness there’s a whole host of possible emotions that could occur: depending on the circumstances, you might find a sort contentedness, realising that the separation is really for the best, or you might get angrier than you’ve ever known, and feel betrayed and disgusted. Sometimes you just turn in on yourself, becoming a chasm of introspection, reassessing what qualities you actually have to offer anyone at any given point, which potentially leads to you questioning what the point of your existence is.
Or you might make an album about the whole experience. Samuel Tucker Young – aka Timberwolf – seems to have done exactly that. Over the course of his self-titled album he recounts sleepless weeks, lonely mornings, and vengeful, bitter feelings towards his former other half moving on without him.
And, of course, this is nothing new; a good chunk of popular music has made a name for itself off of heartbreak because anyone who has ever been in love and not been able to be with the one they want (for whichever of the million reasons why) can relate to the material. But pop music often aims for a sentiment that’s wide-ranging, so the potential market it larger. Selling an individual story is that bit harder, but it can definitely be done (see of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna), and Timberwolf’s story is one that hits a sort of middle ground. A track like “Eternal Sunshine” has great appeal with its passionate chorus which has Young claiming “I’ll tear the sun out of the sky/ if it thinks it rising to end our night/ I’ll build a cage around the moon/ cause this is perfect and it’ll end too soon,” but it still sounds like he’s referencing a specific moment in his life. After listening to this song and sharing a special moment gazing at the stars with someone you adore (or something), which felt that bit more prolonged than it should have been, then you might be convinced it was Young who delayed the arrival of dawn.
And this mix of broad appeal and personal reflection can help the tracks hit on two levels. At first they come across as the earnest ramblings of a guy who hunkered down in his single bedroom for six months. But if you dig deeper, the songs seep in a lonely melancholic air that can sometimes catch you by surprise. Opening track “My Life In A Cave” is probably the best example of this: at first it delivers that somewhat common sentiment of wanting to hide away from the world, but what Young is actually talking about is suicide, which brings the whole song down to earth. What will likely be heard as a jangly guitar ballad on first listen will reveal itself to a depressingly sombre reflection of an individual’s darkest contemplation. “In The Background” starts of sounding like a whimsical tale, but as the verses go on, and as Young finds more reasons to dislike his ex-girlfriend – who is taking her new man to “the bridge where we kissed at on our first date” and “playing him my songs” – his hatred sounds genuinely worrisome, like he will actually go ahead with the plan he has in mind in the last verse.
With things this tense, it helps that there are moments of release. On “Into The Woods” it’s quite easy to imagine Young running away from some regretful act of vengeance he just committed and then taking refuge in his own company beside a small fire. Over a subtly built mix of twanging guitar riff and shuffling background noises Young repeats to himself to “Sit back and relax… it’s going to be okay.” Come the end of the seven-minute track it’s hard to tell if he will be okay, but you’re certainly likely to be rooting for him. At the end of the album there’s the eight-minute behemoth “Winchester” where Young shows off his guitar prowess, creating a truly individual and dynamic piece of Western-inspired, math folk where he goes from settling on his life alone to “I’ll be with you / I swear it / I’ll get you / I swear it by my Winchester.” It’s hard to tell if he where this puts him in the grand scheme of things: the implication of suicide brings the album full circle, yet the whole song sounds like a huge release for him, like he’s putting everything that’s troubled him over the course of the album behind him.
As I’ve said, though, a lot of these ideas won’t sound too original, and musically the album never veers into territory that could potentially repel listeners (while the strings might come across as a bit too much at first, you realise (especially after listening to some demos) that they help push the tracks along). But Young’s personality is intriguing, and it never fails to make itself shown in these songs – you’ll find him laughing to himself (“When I Woke,” or “I’m Fine Without You” where it’s easy to picture him singing to the guest female vocalist in the room with him, but also to imagine her being a figment of his imagination), or muttering “Bitch” at the end of a line (“In The Background”). And if you combine this with his delivery style, which is earnest (as said), but simultaneously sort of charmingly flamboyant, you have a portrait of a guy who is trying to work out his problems in front of you. And, if you’ve ever been heartbroken, you’ll know that sometimes it good to just talk about it and get it all out of your system. Once you become familiar with Young’s stories, you’ll be happy to lend him an ear to listen, or even a shoulder to cry on.