Review of Typhoon’s Offerings, an Existential Narrative by a Portland Band

By Owen Fidler

My relationship with music has always been place-based: I associate artists with the landmarks, roads, and environments I see around me when I listen to them. So naturally, before coming to Portland, I wanted to familiarize myself with the music of the area, to gain a better understanding of the music scene shaped by this new environment. Portland has always been a hub for indie rock, being the home of indie legends The Shins, The Decemberists, She & Him, and the late Elliott Smith, along with a countless number of local bands you can find playing by walking to your nearest food truck lot. In an attempt to go deeper into the Portland scene, I asked an AI to recommend me lesser-known artists from Portland and stumbled upon the 8-member band Typhoon, who, in true Portland fashion, began as high school friends and now make 14-track progressive, dark, orchestral indie rock which generally deals in existentialism. The album I’d like to cover in this review is their fourth studio album, Offerings, which came out in 2018. 

With a 68-minute runtime across fourteen tracks ranging in length from the 55-second echoey and wistful interlude “Mansion” to the near-13 minute dramatic closer “Sleep,” this album is clearly a massive undertaking. With a noir atmosphere that builds throughout the album, these fourteen songs tell a single story about the philosophical repercussions of memory loss. The album offers powerful variance in vocal styles, along with a good balance between ambiance, distortion, and orchestration. The use of silence and volume as an element to build intensity allows the album to convince the listener of its dramatic nature and justify its stream-of-consciousness nature. 

Offerings’ variance in volume also works well in the way that it builds a smooth flow from one song to the next, a good element to have in an album with a progressive style. In that way, the album stylistically reminds me of some of the music of emo band The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, who have a heavier style to their music, although they build musical motifs in a similar way to Typhoon, and similarly come to a satisfying climax as the music progresses into an array of sounds. 

The song “Unusual” does this particularly well, starting from a slow-paced verse/chorus section and then drastically and abruptly transitioning to a rhythmic wall of sound reminiscent of some of the more intense songs of Icelandic Post-Rock band Sigur Rós, which frequently incorporates elements of soft wind instruments layered onto heavy percussion and samples of incomprehensible voices. However, instead of the soft angelic vocalizing of Sigur Rós vocalist Jónsi, we get heavy whisper-chanting by one of the eight listed backing vocalists on Offerings

“Unusual” isn’t the only song that follows this pattern. The next song on the album, “Beachtowel,” also follows a similar acoustic verse → silence → orchestration with incomprehensible vocal samples type of pattern, which it uses to transition flawlessly into “Remember,” a more upbeat and impassioned song, which combines masculine and feminine vocals well. Member Shannon Steele also provides a unique element of softer vocals in “Coverings,” and it’s this diversity in vocal style that adds an element of storytelling to the album. The later songs on the album include some forgettable tracks like “Chiaroscuro,” yet some songs like the penultimate “Ariadne” do a great job of bringing the album’s mood back on track and setting the album’s motifs up for the closer. 

The closer, “Sleep,” begins with a powerful four-minute emotional ballad that fades into an ambiance that detaches the listener from the music itself to distortion and footsteps which do a good job of holding tension, to a low-quality recording of a group caroling lyrics, later built on by lead vocals by singers Kyle Morton and Steele as the album finishes with flair. 

With an album that takes itself this seriously, and builds such dramatic intensity with an array of instrumentation and a deeply thought-out progression, the question that remains is: Does the album’s concept justify its dramatic style? To describe the album’s meaning, a promotional message by the band claims:

“It’s a record from the perspective of a mind losing its memory at precisely the same time the world is willfully forgetting its history. The urgent question becomes: without causality, without structures of meaning, without essential features of rational thought, is there anything that can save us from violence/oblivion?”

“With no past and no future, there is only suffocating, annihilating, present, looping on and on ad infinitum (to me, one plausible definition of hell) and the best you can hope for is that somewhere in the void there exists some small, irreducible certainty—a fragment, a kernel, something—that you may have the good fortune to stumble upon before it’s all over.”

Exploring memory as a crucial element of meaning in the universe is an interesting concept, and while memory loss has been touched on in very heavy detail in music before (see The Caretaker’s project Everywhere at the End of Time) the idea that memory in both a personal sense and in a global context (understanding history) is the only thing keeping us from constant suffering from an existential confusion is definitely a bold philosophy.

Stylistically, the album connects with its meaning in fascinating ways, even though it’s nearly impossible to understand these ways alone without some understanding of epistemology. The community for Typhoon isn’t immense — the band only has 78,000 monthly listeners on Spotify — yet there seems to be a loyal couple dozen contributors who help make things more clear. One of these examples is the way the phrase “Asa Nisi Masa” is chanted in both “Wake” and “Empiricist,” a reference to a phonetic interpretation of the Latin word “anima” (meaning memory) used in Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8 ½. Tracks like “Empiricist” use powerful imagery, making both biblical and thermodynamics references. The narrator is shown to use empirical evidence to make sense of the world around him, quoting philosophical ideas such as Occam’s razor and mathematical ones such as a möbius strip. These references are layered onto metaphor and vivid descriptions of the narrator’s experience, as in “Algernon,” where the narrator interacts with his wife, who tries to get him to remember the past. The narrator, however, doesn’t even know who his wife is.

Different symbols are built throughout the album: a mouse, a mirror, a funeral pyre (see the album’s cover art), building a very physically violent depiction of the narrator’s cognitive processes. In “Remember,” the narrator describes himself (in the second person) as “a black hole bending light beams backwards/Center caving, self-collapsing inwards/Against the infinite and you have no stature/Shrinking infinitely out of the picture.” The narrator destroys everything he owns out of frustration of not being able to remember any of it, and then later in the ashes of his memory takes in the silence of the world around him. In the second half of the album, themes of light and darkness are used profoundly as the narrator begins to decline in physical health as well as mental health; one of the track names, “Chiaroscuro,” is an art term describing light/dark contrast, a contrast the album art utilizes. 

Interestingly, the album uses symbolic meaning as a symbol itself, referencing tarot cards and Rorschach images, both of which are examples of humans deriving meaning from symbolism. In the later tracks of the album, the narrator approaches death, feeling as if he’s trapped in a torturous maze (hence “Ariadne,” a mythical Greek hero relating to the myth of the Minotaur’s maze), and then as death comes for him, recollects the smallest memory, which then leaves his mind. As the lyrics fade into samples in “Sleep” (recall earlier when I mentioned a detachment from the music itself) his own consciousness becomes like a memory, as he looks onto the meaning in his life beyond death (much as the narrator does in Industrial Rock album The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails) and is saved. 

While the album does a really nice job narrating a story, and implementing allusions throughout to tie together many complex philosophical ideas, it frequently bears the burden of being sonically cohesive while disjointed in meaning. The conclusion the album comes to is less of a revelation, and more just that there may be a sliver of clarity of meaning beyond death. The album feels more like a nihilistic rant than any greater understanding of meaning and purpose. Personally, I prefer albums that come towards a conclusion of absurdity when it comes to meaning (such as my personal favorite album, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which takes a more humanistic approach to the search for meaning in life, using human emotional infallibility in love as a metaphor for the discovery of the absurd.) Offerings, in an attempt to have the utmost academic scrutiny of the human condition, lose their human audience in their references. In spite of this, the album is thematically beautiful, and a worthwhile philosophical puzzle, and Typhoon is a Portland band that deserves a lot more attention. 

I rate the album: 7/10 

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