Hunger and Thirst, the debut album from hyper-staffed Portland upstarts, Typhoon, begs to be taken seriously. Thematically, the band makes a point of touching on anything and everything tragic about the human experience, and their songs are frequently titled with the utmost concern for conveying misery and isolation (“Belly of the Cave”, “The Sickness Unto Death”). Yet that unmistakable lonesomeness that haunts every track on Hunger and Thirst is belied by the band’s awesome size (seven full-time members, 17 total contributors). The seeming purpose of this contradictory presentation is to acknowledge the universality of these dreadful things (illness, mortality) we occasionally believe we’re alone in experiencing. As horrendously pretentious as that last sentence makes Typhoon (and myself, just for trying to elucidate that idea) sound, this young band of widescreen folk-enthusiasts is really quite a powerhouse when they get going.
Going back to band’s size; no doubt Typhoon has realized by now that stacking their band with as many musicians as possible is equal parts blessing and curse. Yes, your band now has the freedom to add any number of shades to its overall sound, but now you must also find a way to keep all of your contributors from growing bored mid-performance. This is an issue that Typhoon wrestles with varying degrees of success throughout Hunger and Thirst. It’s nice to have enough people around to use a clapping rhythm section as a percussive foundation (as on “CPR-Claws Part 2”), and the frequent horns usually liven up the proceedings. On the other hand, after a few songs, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s always a full-band sing-along or dramatic string section around the corner. It’s not enough to sink any song in particular, but it does become a little predictable, and distinguishing one song from another is made more difficult as a result. “Ghost Train”, one of Hunger and Thirst’s sweeter, quieter numbers (on an album where most songs are meant to seamlessly merge, one into the other), is meant to be a breather. But again, there are a lot of people in Typhoon. Therefore, “Ghost Train” is unnecessarily loaded down with instrumentation, making an otherwise ethereal song a bit richer than it needed to be.
Typhoon does manage to scale back in a few choice places, particularly album closer “The Sickness Unto Death”. As the title halfway implies, it’s a song about embracing your own death whether it be through cold, concrete acceptance, or comforting delusion. This is the sort of song that’s perfectly suited for a guy and an acoustic guitar. Fortunately, Typhoon manages to conjure the necessary restraint to keep the proceedings stark, and by extension of that, effective and touching.
But so far I’ve only criticized Typhoon for their epic tendencies while, in actuality, it’s probably the band’s most noteworthy element. The band may not stray too far from the “quiet-loud-quiet-loud” dynamic, but the abundance of instruments makes the journey between the peaks and valleys a little more memorable than most bands that rely on that formula. ‘White Liars” is full-blooded drama, replete with militaristic drums, horns, strings and guitars aggressively competing for musical space. Follower “CPR-Claws Part 2” boasts a warmer acoustic guitar progression, establishing Typhoon as embraceable at a point in the album where it’s arguably necessary. “Body of Love” finds Typhoon ratcheting up and releasing the tension no fewer than four times within the first minute and a half, but the repetition actually adds to the unnerving, spaghetti western atmosphere. Usually, when a band tosses in a goofy intermission track, it comes across as flip and extraneous, but given the often severe nature of the first half of Hunger and Thirst, the half-assed stand-up bass noodling that makes up “Intermission” is actually a welcome reprieve.
Naturally, the irrepressible miserablist nature of Typhoon returns on the ironically titled “Happy People”. Yet, at this point in the album, the band has established themselves as largely trustworthy depressives, ones that are frequently capable enough to handle heavy doses of pathos. With a little more instrumental restraint, and perhaps a less heavy-handed approach to their desolation, and Typhoon could easily join the much-heralded ranks of the Microphones or, at the very least, Akron/Family.