Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Toronto-based group based around vocalist Margo Timmins and her guitarist brother Michael Timmins, with Peter Timmons on drums and Alan Anton on bass. They established a reputation for melancholy, overplayed by reviewers who mistook their laconic lyrics and performances for depression. Their debut album Whites Off Earth Now was once described as 'reputedly an art-rock white noise affair' (whatever that meant). The second album The Trinity Sessions '89 (on Cooking Vinyl in the UK) was made in a church for $250 using a single microphone, comprising original material as well as reworked standards by Patsy Cline, Lou Reed ('Sweet Jane') and Hank Williams. 'Their live act was a first-class soporific, their albums a Valium vacation worthy of prescribing as a cure for insomnia, so devoid were they of pace and variety.' Sean O'Hagan in the New Musical Express expressed it more poetically, describing The Trinity Sessions as 'so ethereal and low-key ambient it makes the Grateful Dead sound like Napalm Death'.

They were called the Quaalude Junkies; in fact turning the volume down merely forced rock-jaded listeners to pay attention to the songs for a change, earning them the proverbial cult following and the attention of RCA/BMG. The Caution Horses on BMG '90 showed Michael Timmins's growing maturity and wit as a songwriter: 'Telephone's ringing, but I don't answer it/'Cause everybody knows that good news always sleeps to noon.' The album included covers of fellow Canadian songwriters in Mary Margaret O'Hara's 'You Will Be Loved Again' and Neil Young's 'Powderfinger'. Although theirs was an act which goosed parody (poetic licence permitted since they rarely seemed to get that active) theirs was a music which could uncannily fuel a mood around midnight. Of their version of 'Sweet Jane' Lou Reed, a notoriously hard critic, waxed praising, while their cover of 'To Lay Me Down' on the Grateful Dead covers album Deadicated on Arista '91 captured the spirit of the Hunter/Garcia song beautifully. Black-Eyed Man '92 had more country-folk flavour including the story-telling skills of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt; Pale Sun Crescent Moon '93 explored harsher textures while retaining their detachment; they switched to Geffen for Lay It Down '96. 200 More Miles on BMG was a two-CD compilation of live versions of their best songs, recorded 1985-94.

In 2014 they were said to have done 20 albums, but the best known were perhaps the Nomad Series of four releases. Remnin Park 2010 showcased their experimental side; Michael Timmins, visiting China with his family in 2008, had made street recordings and came back to work with producer Joby Baker in making loops to write around. Demons in early 2011 was going to be an album of covers, but featured songs by singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who had died on Christmas Day 2009: taking away Chesnutt's unique vocals, his production style and so on, they had 'really phemonenally beautiful songs, these great weird structures' to work with, and made them their own, with Margo's ability to give herself to the matrerial. Sing In My Meadow in October showed a free-form almost psychedelic side of the quartet, reflecting their tendency to jam on certain songs; and Wilderness 2012 featured quiet acoustic originals.

Carrying on, the Nomad Series was followed by The Kennedy Suite 2013, collaborating with composer/lyricist Scott Garbe and featuring guest bits by another dozen Canadian artists, on the theme of the Kennedy assassination 50 years earlier. In 2014 they were touring with a show that included two full sets.