A hidden gem from the early 2000’s alternative/indie scene, Mary Timony, continues to shine as an experimental songwriter even in virtual form. Weeks after her latest reissue, Mountains (20th Anniversary Expanded Edition), Timony and her accompanying band executed a fast-paced online concert that was short and sweet. Recorded “live” at St. Mark’s in Washington D.C., the church’s glossy wood floors and tall stain-glass windows served as an acoustic wonderland for the band’s eclectic array of instruments.
Timony and the band wasted no time before jumping into “Rider on the Stormy Sea,” a groovy Saharan-feeling alt-rock tune. Front and center was Timony wielding a 12-string twangy guitar and singing haunting melodies along the harmonic minor scale. The chorus features an epic build up culminating in a beautiful cello riff by Amy Domingues. Their performance felt like listening to a Tame Impala record in the desert.
The beginning of “The Hour Glass” was reminiscent of a Mozart string duet, with the viola and cello dancing to a waltz. Their melodies clashed dissonantly at points but always resolved. Suddenly, the drums changed back into a 4-beat rhythm, and a high-pitched retro synth followed a clean electric bass into an indie interlude. Meanwhile, Timony flaunted a dark, exclamatory falsetto, which added to the dramatic effect of the song’s rhythmic changes.
Next was “I Fire Myself,” a dark tune with a marching beat. Mark Cisneros refrained from playing the hi-hat and instead focused on using a shaker and a snare with bells on it. Long legato phrases on the viola and cello complemented the short melodic piano lines. Timony’s lyrics were poignant and sinister: “a demon lured me to his bed, where I fell into a poison sleep.” While this song became a bit repetitive, it displayed Timony’s knack for combining different genres together into an alternative hodgepodge.
“Painted Horses” was the band’s most experimental, featuring Timony on an electric guitar straight out of a wild west movie. She slapped the whammy bar gracefully. Cisneros used mallets instead of sticks for the drums, a rare technique which gave the rhythm a sense of vagueness. The ominous drums paired well with the dissonant sustained chords throughout the piece.
Timony’s clever use of dissonant sustained 4th chords continued into the beautiful orchestral piece, “Tiger Rising.” Although no one was on the drum kit for this song, what lacked in percussion was made up for by David Christian on the flute and Winston Yu on the viola. Clearly inspired by traditional East Asian music, the flute, strings and twangy guitar merged into a foreign folk soundscape and kept the audience on their toes.
“Leon’s Space Song,” the finale, was Timony’s fresh spin on ’70s surf rock. The meaty, washed out lead guitar followed the chugging electric bass smoothly. Add in a classic rock beat, and just the three instruments together were simple and refreshing. Timony shredded guitar solos evocative of the Eagles, and the band’s chemistry was evident as they jammed effortlessly.
While the entire performance was only about 25 minutes and left the live chat begging for an encore, Mary Timony and her team nailed it. What stuck out especially was her song choice, a shmorgishborg of musical subtleties that took the virtual audience around the world. The notion that the band could change styles so crisply with so few instruments is beyond impressive. Timony is a brilliant songwriter, and her fans appreciate that. One typed in the chat: “I’m smoking cigarettes with all the other emotional teens outside the digital venue.” Experimental alternative melodies and mysterious lyrics tend to appeal to angsty young adults, which seems to be the majority of Timony’s target fanbase. Anyone looking for obscure and riveting alternative music should definitely check out Mary Timony.