Hailing from the great state of Oregon, Typhoon is an orchestral indie-rock band that has an original sound that’s incomparable to any artist that has ever contributed a verse to contemporary music in the past number of decades. I first heard these guys in the summer of 2012, and A New Kind Of House was the record that got me hooked. Headed by front man, Kyle Morton, the band is made up of twelve members that play a variety of instruments to form a full, lush sound that is beautifully composed with horns, violins, choruses, guitar effects, and the unique usage of two drummers. A New Kind Of House is a continuation of the band’s 2010 album, Hunger and Thirst, revolving around the themes of Morton struggling with the idea of death and lost youth (he’d succumbed to Lyme disease as a child that cost him a kidney and left him feeling, in his own words, “living on borrowed time”). The mix of these dark lyrics with triumphant uplifting melodies creates the sort of tension one often goes through when coping with their own mortality and simultaneously trying to celebrate the gift of life.
The first song I show when introducing people to this band also happens to be the opening track off this EP. “The Honest Truth” begins with the whispering line that ended the album that preceded it, “eternity will smile on me.” Suddenly the great strumming of a D-chord springs into existence and horns soon follow, which eventually collapses into the powerful line, “I never said I was honest, but I am truth.” The song moves along to a marching beat, which works perfectly with a line later in the song, “we all see something different when we watch the parade.” Morton’s singing is nothing spectacular, in terms of range or Mariah Carey zest, but the emotion behind the lyrics is indeed ‘honest’ and all the more fills you with a barrage of emotions that beckons you to launch upon the cafeteria tables of your school and belt: “But there’s no hallelujah it will be gone soon, yeah it will be gone soon, it’s just an empty room. This is our darkest cave we’ll never see the day but slowly make our way to the mouth. You’re gonna piss and moan, you let the devil in your home!” To which you’re carried out, on your back by the hundreds of others you’ve just conveyed your heart to, by a fantastic trumpet solo.
Possibly my favorite Typhoon song, “Summer Home” is an ode to childhood memories—the groping for moments long forgotten in the dark corners of time. Morton states: “My old house, my childhood’s tomb it is a failing light, but it will come back soon. A candle burns in your old room and before it goes out, I swear I will find you.” The phrase “my childhood’s tomb” sheds light on Morton’s feeling about his ‘lost youth’ and own mortality. We also get insight to his family with the verse, “My little sister, I was two, the year that you were born and Ben came after you. We all three shared gentle youth—our mother combed our hair, our father cleaned our wounds.” But the dramatic change comes with a bug bite that causes Morton’s illness—hence that “gentle youth” is lost to a premature struggle with death.
“Claws Pt. 1” continues this self-reflection but with a more aggressive tone. The frustration of this illness taking away a normal childhood is not only shown in the lyrics, but in the music as well. The guitar work is at its ‘heaviest’ in this song with distortion and skin scratching dissonance. Morton dissects the idea of hope in the verse: “We are conceived all with the same chance to be spared, to be salvaged, to be kept safe. Then you hope to God that nothing bad will happen from when you’re born ‘til you go quietly from old age—to make hope feel like a crushing weight.” Morton views his fate as random chance, and he got the shit end of the stick early on. In this bitterness, though, Morton finds artistic inspiration and purpose as the chorus states: “I found a friend in the great, great beast. He’s digging his claws in me.” The “beast” is the bug that bit Kyle and gave him his illness. Through all the woes of having such a terrible thing happen to him, he’s able (along with the rest of his Oregon orchestra) to create something beautiful out of it and salvage something out of his life that may not have been there if this bad thing hadn’t happened.
The rest of the EP is mellower, and fades out like the flames of all our lives without a cry or moan from the universe or surrounding forces. “Kitchen Tile” is a simple acoustic tune that discusses change and recuperation. It climaxes with the entire band singing the title with an acoustic guitar and piano banging away at a three-chord progression. This then slips into the final track, “Firewood.” Both mention Morton taking over someone’s home after they’ve left—possibly contemplating the thought that we take over houses that others once lived in, and left, because of death. As Morton states: “I stole into a stranger’s home, and strange, still, became my own.” This mournful piano ballad once again touches on the idea of mortality, but instead of looking back at the past (how Kyle could’ve died then but didn’t) it looks to the future as death being inevitable. “I fell for mantle photographs, some distance vacation, some greener grass. A wife in white dress, myself in black—O’ little ghosts, ghosts, my future heart attacks.” Morton sees his life playing out before him with the haunting fact that he believes he should be dead the entire time that he’s still here with us (we see this from the line that Morton sees his future wife in white while he’s still in black, funeral attire). Despite this, despite the demons that haunt Morton (and apparently continue to do so as we see on the album that follows this one), he tries to come to terms that he needs to move on and accept the life he has: “It’s time I travel back to youth to tell the life that’s false from the life that is true—and if I borrowed love for you, I will pay my debts, I will start anew.”
A New Kind Of House is another chapter added to Morton’s eulogy to his lost childhood and the life of his that is to come. The record itself, musically and lyrically, is beautiful and heart wrenching without being melodramatic. Typhoon is able to discuss universal topics in a new, profound way that derives from a mournful life that is trying to find answers and reasons for everything that has happened—and, moreover, to find peace and acceptance within the human condition. I extend my hand to Morton and his company of fantastic musicians in hope that he does find that peace along with everyone else. For what else do we have?