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The Timeout Drawer - Presents Left for the Living Dead

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Artist: The Timeout Drawer

Album: Presents Left for the Living Dead

Label: Chocolate Industries

Review date: Jan. 7, 2004

"The Gift They'd Pick If The Choice Were Theirs," from the Timeout Drawer's 2001 A Difficult Future, is one of the finer overlooked album openers in recent memory. Its first two-thirds build dutifully, the way you're taught the first day of post-rock school, layering chords of shimmering sine waves on top of a churning rhythm section; then, around four minutes in, it breaks loose and begins to rock with such determination — the right combination of instrumentation, intuition, and insistence — that the song's predictability and lack of structural diversity don't matter in the least bit.

The rest of A Difficult Future makes an admirable pass at keeping up the interesting sounds offered in the first six minutes: a snaky interplay of drums, guitars, electric piano and analog synth. It succeeds, with the limited novelty of tempering Tortoise-style post-rock (prog-rock, if you must be a stickler for the implications of a keyboard) with regular straight-ahead rock, but it never quite returns to the power or fervor of its first track. The later songs tend to push too far with too little variation, and their best moments are subtly rewarding, not immediately awesome. It's a worthwhile album, to be sure, but the whole pales in comparison to the beginning.

By themselves, the four songs on (the current incarnation of) the quartet's new EP, Presents Left for the Living Dead, don't quite match this high standard either, but together they push the band's limits even higher. They rock more, trading methodical minimalism for suspense and abandon, and travel less sensible paths than anything on A Difficult Future or its predecessor, 1999's Record of Small Histories. The first track, "Terrible Secrets Revealed In An Instant By A Flash of Lightning," has just enough crunch beneath the buzz and whir and twinkle of the synths to capture the proportions which made "The Gift…" so compelling. While it lacks the simple linearity of that song, it's nearly as climactic and exciting as it grows toward a spirited chaos.

"Broad Grins from the Boarding Ramp," a lovely song in its own right, serves the greater purpose of demonstrating the versatility of the analog synth. Replacing the grunge of "Terrible Secrets…" with a warm, pensive melancholy, it wraps sine waves in and out of piano chords and an exquisitely tasteful mariachi trumpet, undercut by a mechanistic drum line and muted guitar notes. Meanwhile, the third track, "Hunting With Fire (The Most Fertile Ground For Drama)," sounds like "The Gift…" as a 12-minute Mogwai cover, once again building in intensity toward some unspecified breakdown. More pulses, hums, and beeps gather with a hypnotic patience, but break into driving, crunchy rock before the onset of boredom.

Finally, as though officially celebrating the band's move from its prior home on Chicago's classy design label Someoddpilot Records, the EP closes with "Terrible Secrets…" remixed by fellow Chocolate Industries newcomer Caural. His reworking, which falls closer in line with his work on last summer's Blurred July EP than it does with his older and arguably better work, seems connected to the first track in name only, and to the Timeout Drawer themselves only by the odd sprinkling of electric piano. Still, Caural's dreamy washes of static and staccato grooves combine agreeably with the faint reflexes of the original song.

Perhaps the most notable trait of the Timeout Drawer is the ability to credibly combine surprising warmth and unpredictability with the sound of dispassionate technology. The dynamic and adventuresome overtones of Presents Left for the Living Dead capitalize on a feeling that has served the band well before and continues to do so, making for an EP with the sort of edge not heard enough in current post-rock, and highlighting a band beginning to fully deliver on their promise.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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