It begins with a whisper: “Listen — of all the things that you are about to lose, this will be the most painful.” With that theatrical flourish, the expansive Portland, OR indie outfit Typhoon lurches into Offerings, a 70-minute concept album with four distinct movements — labeled “Floodplains,” “Flood,” “Reckoning,” and “Afterparty” — that document the slow mental deterioration of a dying man.
Clearly, Offerings is not an album you’d want to throw on for a dinner party or a trip to the gym. But for those who miss the epic-sounding indie-rock records of the late ’00s and early ’10s — a time when Arcade Fire made the world safe for baseball-team sized band lineups — then Offerings will seem like a hearty meal amid the scaled-back portions served up by so many contemporary artists. It’s an immersive experience that takes its time developing a mood, utilizing recurring musical motifs and disorienting sound effects to hint at a narrative without ever getting overly pedantic.
Formed by Kyle Morton in 2005, Typhoon has ballooned to as many as 12 members on previous records, though the band recently slimmed down to a relatively svelte seven-person lineup when Morton’s latest songs no longer required the use of a horn section. But Typhoon still creates an appropriately deep and wide sound to suit Morton’s 70mm character studies and ruminative mood pieces that are inspired by films like Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Shane Carruth’s mind-blowing cult favorite Upstream Color.
While Morton’s lyrical preoccupations derive from existential questions about death and the nature (and inevitable failure) of memory, musically he favors stately anthems that swell to overpowering crescendos. As he explained in our interview below, Morton relies on those emotional payoffs to evoke (rather than spell out) his album’s story.
Offerings is such a cinematic record. It’s not that it sounds like a film score — the experience of listening to it actually feels like watching a movie. I’m wondering: Did you ever want to be a filmmaker?
Definitely. The first Typhoon record — which no one can ever really hear because we took it off the internet, it’s kind of our embarrassing freshman effort that we self-released in 2005 — the whole idea of it was this film idea I had but I had no idea how to make a film. I had no directorial experience, so I was like, well I’ll just try this and see what happens if I translate it into a record.
So Typhoon sort of started with that idea, and through the years I’ve been really influenced and have admired records that have something cinematic in their scope or try to tell a story. Beyonce’s Lemonade, for example, I feel is sort of like the epitome of this sort of art right now, where she basically made a Terrence Malick film for a record she put out.
But Lemonade was accompanied by an actual film. Your film is the record.
There’s no film and it’s not really a soundtrack, either — because you have to do more than the soundtrack, you have to actually put the narrative content in there. Typhoon to me has always been about trying to make a coherent concept, an arc that works as a whole but hopefully also works as individual songs. But I’m always kind of more concerned with the whole piece.
It’s hard because, where I see problems with concept records, it’s that they can be too pedantic or too in service of the greater concept, and the songs suffer. So I really try to make sure I can balance it out.
Right. I love Tommy but the plot of that album is laid out a little too plainly. One of the strengths of Offerings is that there is no plot. The storytelling is intuitive and driven by the emotions evoked by the music.
Yeah. I didn’t want to do like, ‘The character does this and then he goes here.’ I didn’t want it to be too much exposition in that way because I don’t think music exactly lends itself to that. I mean, you could make the case for musicals, for opera, but since I was dealing with memory and lapses in memory I thought it would be more interesting to do a record that is somewhat discontinuous. That is part of its continuity — there are gaps or noise or there’s this feeling of confusion and oblivion.
You did an interview back in 2011 where you talked about your “obsession” with Nabokov’s Pnin, in which you said the book likens the protagonist’s flashback to his past “to a drowning man re-experiencing his baptism and every subsequent submersion after that.” That seems like a fair description of this album you released seven years later.
Yeah, I’m sort of obsessed with that idea and I think there’s an element of that in everything that I’ve written, but especially this one. You hit it on the head.
What is it about that book, or just memory in general, that intrigues you so much?
Human life seems to be predicated by loss, or the loss of lives around it. If life is in a way subtractive at a certain point, what’s going to be left? If you’re on your deathbed and you’re trying to understand everything at that last point, and you don’t have all your mental faculties, what are the residues or kernels of experience that will stick with you?
There’s a lot of studies saying that music is stored in a different part of the brain, that the memories of music are stored differently than representational memories. I was really interested in this idea that there is something irreducible, that there would be some form of memory that keeps you human even when you lose everything else. I think that’s where I was going with this record.
The album is dedicated to David Rudie, who died in 2016. Not to pry, but who is David Rudie?
David was my uncle. He’s all over the record. I have an old videotape of our family the last time we were all together, doing some Chinese lanterns during Christmas, setting them up in the air. So I pulled the audio from this old videotape and if you listen carefully it’s there on the very last secret track.
He was in the hospital a bit before he died, and it is kind of personal. I don’t want to go too deeply into it but my experience with him before and after he died had a lot to do with my thoughts, both analytical and wishful thinking, on the record.
Typhoon is a large band. Do you come up with these grand concepts to suit the band, or did you make the band so large to suit your concepts?
At this point it’s kind of the chicken and the egg. I guess in the very original version of Typhoon, when it was really just a recording project that I wanted to be epic and cinematic, that was how we decided on the instrumentation. Since then, I can’t really imagine making a musically minimal or restrained record with Typhoon. It has to tackle a a certain scope, and musically it has to rise to the occasion.
I feel like your band would’ve fit more comfortably in the indie-rock landscape 10 years ago. But now it seems like many rock bands are really one person plus hired musicians.
The last time we played Lollapalooza I remember thinking, “Why is everyone flocking to the tent with the guy with the laptop?” This was back in 2014, and it was the rise of EDM or what you’re saying, a singer/songwriter who hires a band. They certainly have better business sense than I do. The overhead of bringing a laptop on tour is infinitely less than bringing a 12-piece band.
Offerings is out now via Roll Call Records. Get it here.