Song, by Toad

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Toadcast #313 – The Outofdatecast

tag So many of the songs on this week’s podcast should really have been played at the very least six months ago that, honestly, it’s just a little bit embarrassing. Some of these came from emails which got utterly buried in my inbox, some from things that I kept intending to feature, only to realise that I had accidentally allowed months to pass without doing so, and others I simply didn’t get the chance to even read until the January lull.

That’s fine of course, I know none of you come here to be on the very cutting edge of the cutting edge, but some sort of vague punctuality would be nice wouldn’t it. Given that, as we discovered last week, jokes have to automatically stop being funny once more than ten people have posted them to Facebook, I assume you probably have to stop enjoying songs now by the time they are three months old or so.

There also seems to be a weird preponderance of all-caps bands. I know that’s quite the thing these days, just as no-one ten years ago would even bring themselves to glance at a capital letter, but still, I find it unnerving. Do they care that much? Can I ignore it? Or do they hate it when people spell it like a normal word? Oh my god the anxiety.

Anyway, fuck it, tunes.

Toadcast #313 – The Outofdatecast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. BETS – Don’t Give a Fuck (00.10)
02. FURS – An Eye on the Vicious (05.07)
03. Strange Lords – Szandora (12.13)
04. Heavy Drag – Tissue (15.29)
05. Body Cheetah & Messed Up Coyote – Shawty (22.32)
06. Grubs – Dec. 15 (26.25)
07. The Muppets – Happiness Hotel (28.53)
08. TRAAMS – Teeth (34.12)
09. Songdog – A Life Eroding (So Much Sorrow) (44.35)
10. Clem Snide – The Ballad of Saint Paull (49.07)
11. ULTRAS – This is Where I Fall (55.52)

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Strange Lords

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This is fucking brilliant. I was sent it in July last year, and it only appear on the site now, six months later, but so the fuck what. I’m just glad I didn’t miss it altogether.

Waylon Thornton you might remember from his solo work, as well as stuff with Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands. He does a lot of stuff, as a look at that Bandcamp page will show you, so I don’t always love all of it and in fact I don’t always get to hear all of it, but since the very first time I wrote about his work I realised very quickly that if he emails me about a new release I should pay attention because mostly they are absolutely fucking excellent.

This is a collaboration with Andrew Seward, and it’s pretty basic: Waylon plays guitar, Andrew drums, and pretty much every second of this recording is bloody great. It’s just loose, fierce psyche-rock, and it’s entirely instrumental, and that’s it. Case closed, fucking awesome, thanks very much.

The music sounds nasty as fuck too, but actually it’s not all that nasty a collection of sounds. Thornton’s guitar used to sound absolutely fucking filthy on his early stuff, but this is pretty clean, it’s just what he’s playing that makes it nasty.

Maybe because it’s instrumental and that’s all there is to focus on there is none of the just plain chugging along that this kind of music can be a little prone too. No singing, no chorus, so it all has to come from the two instruments, and believe me it very much does.

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Heavy Drag

Remember Lil Daggers? We did an album, an EP and a split 7″ with them, and they are one of the very few non-Scottish bands we’ve ever released. They were based in Miami, made nasty, nasty swampy psychedelic rock songs (actually, if they were releasing nowadays the Modern British Hipster would fucking love them) and amazingly enough, Mrs. Toad loved them. She doesn’t love much that we release, although she definitely leans more towards nasty sounding guitar music, but it’s rare and rather nice when she pipes up and says ‘this is good’.

Anyhow, given then never managed to get over here and tour – understandable, Florida is a long fucking way away – our release never did much more for them than garner a couple of really nice reviews and give me awesome stuff to play if I was ever asked to DJ. Seriously, try playing Ghost Herd in the middle of a party of any sort, the looks on people’s faces are hilarious (it’s awesome, have a listen).

Anyhow, from the ashes of Lil Daggers springs a new band, one called Heavy Drag. There’s not too much out there at the moment, beyond one song on their Bandcamp page and and digital single to buy on iTunes (the video above is from that), but it all sounds really good so far.

It’s not as rambunctious as Lil Daggers – a bit slower and more shifty – more like the stalker you think you see at the end of your street than the dick picking a fight with you in a bar. It still has the garagey and psychey elements, but it definitely all feels different this time. The combination of the jangly guitar and descending bassline in Tissue is a great example – rhythm and foundation, but still skittery and loose.

This is excellent news. I am glad they haven’t gone away.

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James Blunt is Funny, but He is Also Totally Wrong

tim Alright, we all know about this already, right? Labour MP Chris Bryant said something about not wanting an art world dominated by the (very posh) likes of Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt, and then in characteristic fashion James Blunt wrote an open letter (those fucking things seem to make up about 40% of the fucking internet these days, don’t they) calling him a “classist gimp” and accusing of fostering an atmosphere where success breeds only envy, and all the usual rich-person tropes about how people who resent their success and their wealth are, in the end, just jealous.

The problem is that Bryant was basically right about the huge problem of class privilege and diversity in the arts, Blunt pretty much entirely missed his point, and because of the way internet arguing works I fear that the good message will be lost in the witty slap-down, despite the argument Blunt thinks he is countering being a man made almost entirely of straw.

Blunt made some reasonable points about how he achieved his success and how little most of those breaks had to do with his upbringing or his class. Fair enough, but it is pretty much impossible to succeed in life without trying, or without working hard – particularly in the arts. That’s not really how privilege tends to work. Money can buy you exposure, but not talent, and whatever you want to say about James Blunt’s music, he clearly has talent in the sense that absolutely fucking millions of people want to listen to his music. Read the rest of this entry »

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Numbers Are Futile Sign to Song, by Toad Records

Sunlight on Black Horizon

Well anyone who has heard our new sampler for this year, Song, by Toad’s Magic Beanz, or has listened to a recent podcast or has erm, met me down the pub, knew this already, but Edinburgh’s fantastic Numbers Are Futile are going to be releasing their debut album on Song, by Toad Records this year.

For a self-appointed ‘music writer’ I am never that sure how to describe the music that we release, but ‘thumping, percussive electronica’ is probably not too far from the mark. You never know, though, they might kill me for that.

The album is coming out in May on vinyl only, and will include hand-numbered posters currently being made by the band themselves. Then we’ve got to get the fuckers out touring, so if you know someone we should get in touch with near you then just let me know and I will see what I can do.

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Toadcast #312 – The Resolvecast

tag So, with the first podcast of the year I suppose I should be doing New Year’s Resolutions, right? I guess I do have some, sort of, for a change.

Firstly, I didn’t exactly keep on top of the label admin well enough last year – particularly the accounts – so that really does need to improve.

We’re doing gigs again this year, partly because it seems to help with the general awareness of the label and partly because no-one in Edinburgh seems to be putting on the kind of gigs I want to go to. Actually, that’s less of a resolution really, and more of an announcement, isn’t it.

And thirdly, we have to suck less at PR. I’ve got a few plans for this, but mostly we just have to do a better job of getting label artists covered in the bigger online magazines in particular. It’s heavy work, PR stuff, but if you can’t do PR then you aren’t really a label so it has to be done.

Also, we have a playlist on Soundcloud of all the new bands we’re working with this year.

Toadcast #312 – The Resolvecast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. The Muppets – Movin’ Right Along (00.00)
02. Garden of Elks – This Morning We Are Astronauts (02.47)
03. Le Thug – Basketball Land (10.07)
04. Krill – Sick Dogs (For Ian) (18.49)
05. Body Cheetah – I’m There (22.17)
06. Jane Weaver – The Electric Mountain (31.26)
07. Rob Cantor – Shia LeBeouf (37.13)
08. Lush Purr – Horses on Morphine (41.07)
09. Supermoon – Klopfgeist (47.56)
10. Numbers Are Futile – Vice Over Reason (55.55)
11. digitalanalogue – Café Royal (1.01.03)
12. The Golden Toadstools – Silly Savage (1.07.51)

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Supermoon, Wolf & Ryan Van Winkle

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Meursault ceased to exist in late 2014, but then there was Supermoon. And no-one really knew what that was, apart from NOTMeursault, but since then we have start to see new bits and pieces cropping up which might give us a few hints. Firstly, there are the cartoons which have been appearing on Instagram. They are, erm, well not narratively expansive exactly, but they do give you something of a sense of something anyway, even if I am not entirely sure what it is.

There are also new Supermoon recordings cropping up on Soundcloud all the time at the moment, and we’re working towards a formal EP release in the fairly near future, so we though fuck it, why not have a proper gig and say hello to the world like normal bands do.

The show will take place at Henry’s Cellar Bar on Friday 23rd January, and you can get tickets here. Neil will be joined by the awesome Wolf, who you should hopefully remember from either Howlin’ Fling or Jonnie Common’s album launch last year, as well as locally-based poet and one of the key driving forces behind the Forest Café, Ryan Van Winkle.

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My Invisible Friend

mif Given the musical disconnect between the UK and a lot of our European neighbours, I am always slightly curious when we seem to see eye to eye on certain genres. Britain and Sweden are indiepop cousins, for example, and our mutual love of excruciatingly pretentious atmospheric cinemascapes brings us and Iceland wonderfully close together. Germany seems to embrace our glum side, we and France vaguely agree on electro-pop and for some inexplicable reason, we seem to be pretty in sync with Italy when it comes to shoegaze.

I have no idea why this is, but generally when I have heard Italian bands I have liked, they have been shoegaze ones. This is another example: My Invisible Friend, from Parma.

I would say that, vocals aside, they don’t sound a million miles away from Hookworms, but then Hookworms themselves are very classically krauty-shoegaze I guess, so I suppose that would be crediting them with inventing something they didn’t really invent. I also hear bits of a rather less frantic, nasty Ringo Deathstarr too, but I suppose the band don’t sound much like them either, so don’t ask me why these sideways comparisons sprang to mind, they just did.

Shoegaze like this does something different for me than other music, I think. It inspires the slowest possible head banging – just this slow, quasi-spiritual rocking back and forth with a bit of a head-peck at the end of each forward tilt for emphasis.

It’s not rough or distorted like a lot of British shoegaze-inspired stuff I’ve been listening to recently, but it certainly strikes the right balance between sludgey noise, and meandering guitar solos and dreamy vocals in the upper register to cut through the fog. Really good.

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The Music Industry Isn’t Fake, It Just Isn’t What You Think It Is

I watched the above ‘exposé’ and I can imagine it is intended to be shocking. And I can imagine, I suppose, that for some people it might be pretty shocking, although I doubt very many of them read this blog.

In short, every – and I mean every – record in mainstream pop is auto-tuned to hell. It’s just an assumption these days. And every live performance is auto-tuned to fuck as well, in the odd occasion it isn’t just lip-synched. Live shows, the last leg the music industry apparently has to stand upon, are a sham. The product is a lie. None of these people can sing. None of them are who they are presented to us as being.

Imagine that.

The issue I have with the whole premise of the above video is that it misunderstands the nature of the thing it is describing. That’s fair enough, because the name it is given is almost entirely false, but the ‘music industry’ isn’t a music product so the way the music is put together is pretty much secondary.

The music industry is an entertainment product, not an art product, and so we seem to consistently misunderstand how it is supposed to work, what it is trying to achieve and how things are actually done.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some very talented musicians working in the music industry, and some amazing music being made, but that is a secondary aim. There are some talented artists working in the graphic design industry as well, but that doesn’t mean that its primary goal is to produce great art.

Modern musicians gain far, far more from celebrity than they do from music. Their money is made in appearance fees (and not always to perform either), in branded products and image licensing. Selling music is the means to this end, but it is really not the end itself.

I despise the X-Factor with its legitimised bullying and ridiculous karaoke circus, but I don’t hate it because it is Bad Music. It isn’t about music at all. It’s an interactive soap opera, so really, we shouldn’t care what it ‘says’ about the modern music industry.

Except for the fact that it makes explicit what should have been obvious to everyone for years: that the people we think are the stars are not really the stars. In the X-Factor the show itself is the star, and the contestants, even the winners, are disposable tokens whose individuality is more or less irrelevant.

The above video complains about lip-synched or auto-tuned live shows cheating the consumer out of what they came to see, but they think that musical excellence is what they came to see, and it just isn’t. It’s entertainment. They came to see a show – a spectacle.

And you can criticise Madonna or Beyoncé for miming their live shows, but look at all the dancing around they are doing. If they were performing those feats of athletics at the same time as having to really, properly sing, then all you’d hear would be their heavy breathing as they tried to gasp their way through their songs. They have to lip-synch. The performance and the spectacle are hundreds of times more important than some misplaced sense of musical integrity.

And if every song is auto-tuned and every performance lip-synched, then effectively you are looking at someone whose acting and dancing are far more important than their musical abilities. There are people who cross over of course, and have some influence over the nature of the product they are the face of, but who is more important to the Katy Perry machine – the people they buy the song-writing from, the army of image consultants, or whoever they hire to play the Katy Perry character.

And I am not being an indie-snob here. I have heard too many tales of stadium-filling guitar bands with teams of ghost-writers writing hits in the style of the band because the band themselves can’t do it anymore to dismiss those stories as bollocks. Anything that big is a product.

Of course this isn’t a neat division. There can be a lot of great art in even the most commercially successful music products, but that doesn’t mean that’s what the industry does, or what it is there for.

And I think it’s this messy overlap which confuses people. Underground DIY bands can ascend to this level of celebrity too, but it’s extremely rare. How many Hollywood superstars are actually decent actors, as opposed to hugely charismatic celebrities. Some of them can act, but at that level of the industry it becomes pretty much secondary.

The crossover can be weird. I remember Drowned in Sound going to the Mercury Prize this year and seeing this disconnect first hand. Young Fathers won the prize and instead of being interviewed about anything of substance were simply expected by the assembled press throng to rattle through a series of rote answers about how it was the music that mattered but how honoured they were, and the atmosphere when they didn’t play the anticipated game was highly uncomfortable.

I can’t speak for them, but it seems to me simply that Young Fathers weren’t prepared to step from the musicians’ ladder, which they have doggedly and successfully been climbing for some years now, onto the celebrity ladder.

I was a little taken aback by DiS’s surprise, I have to be honest, given their awareness of how celebrity drives traffic which in turn drives ad revenue on music websites and the effect that has on what actually gets written about. They should know that the fundamental basis of how you make your decisions changes based on whether you are an artistic product or a commercial one, and how early you have to make that decision.

Late last year I lamented how hard it was becoming for me to get our bands any coverage in the bigger online music magazines – ones, funnily enough, like Drowned in Sound. Irrespective of the reasons why this is the case, a friend of mine made the suggestion that I have a look for some bands being covered already, with some traction of their own, and sign them.

It’s an eminently sensible suggestion of course, but my reaction was really hostile: I’m not being told who to fucking sign by a straw poll of random volunteer music writers who will rattle out some stuff for these sites for free for as long as it takes them to get bored of not getting paid and fuck off to get a job in PR instead. I am putting in the work, I am spending the money, I am making the fucking decisions.

And of course therein lies the difference. What I was essentially saying was ‘I am not signing someone just because I think they’re going to do well’. Or, even more starkly: ‘I’m not signing someone for business reasons’. And if as a label you’re not willing to base who you sign on business reasons, then you can’t really claim to be a business can you?

And we’re not a business – well, not primarily at least. Like the ‘music’ industry, which uses art as a tool to enhance its business, we use business as a tool to generate revenue which enhances our art.

So I am neither surprised nor at all outraged that modern pop stars either can’t or don’t sing – mostly because that’s not really what they’re selling. Even Beyoncé. Even Madonna. Even Taylor Swift. And I am not judging or claiming some sort of moral high ground or smug level of integrity. They are just totally different things, done in totally different ways, for totally different reasons.

And if you don’t think so then ask me or thousands of small labels like me how willing we would be to compromise our art for business reasons. Then wonder how much someone like the One Direction would be allowed to fuck up their business in the name of art.

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Song, by Toad’s Albums of the Year 2014 1-5

n9068 Okay okay, before we get down to the serious business of 2015 (and there’s really rather a lot of that piling up already), I suppose I should clear the decks of one last thing before I can declare 2014 done and dusted and that is my favourite albums of the year list. I can only imagine how devastated the internet would be if I didn’t get this one finished.

As I explained in the post accompanying numbers 11 through 20, the list this year has fallen particular victim to the vagaries of real life, so it’s not really ‘The Very Best’ albums of the year, even just in my opinion, because I have found myself without the time to sit and really listen properly to vinyl for about  a third of the year.

Due to moving house, touring in the States, having our living room rebuilt and all sorts of other things some albums have been disproportionately favoured over others. This happens all the time anyway – sometimes things just don’t get a fair crack of the whip – but this year has been particularly bad.

Song, by Toad’s Best of 2014
1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20

So if you’re reading this and thinking ‘holy fuck, no Twilight Sad, no John Knox Sex Club, no Old Earth’ then it really is just because I haven’t found the time to listen to those albums (and plenty more) just yet. I am pretty certain that by the middle of 2015 I will have a fairly different perspective on the year just gone, but for now the usual disclaimer feels even more necessary than ever: don’t worry, I am not saying these are definitively the best albums of 2014, but given my rather unpredictable listening circumstances, these have ended up being my favourite.

Not that much in the top five will surprise you of course – I may have had a weird year, but I am still as predictable as ever!

1. Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams

This is a lush, weird, sleazy and gorgeous. Timber Timbre evolve fairly slowly, but go back four albums and the band sound nothing whatsoever like this. One of those rare moments where immaculate production and more involved arrangements seem like the absolute right thing for an album.

2. Powerdove – Arrest

One of those albums which very, very nearly squeaked under my radar this year, which I suppose is just one of the drawbacks of being on a small label – we just don’t have the personnel for exhaustive PR campaigns. Fortunately I happened across it a month or two ago, and balls on a stick is it gorgeous. So many abrasive noises and so much lovely stuff, all intermingled into one perfectly executed whole.

3. Micah P. Hinson – Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing

Given how barely Micah P. Hinson’s music changes from one record to the next I don’t really know why I never get bored of it. I don’t, though. In fact given his near omnipresence in my top five every time he releases an album, it would seem Hinson’s wild swings between intensely sad and intensely angry, with just a little bit of contemplation and playfulness mixed in here and there strikes a chord in me as reliably as a metronome.

4. David Thomas Broughton – UnAbleTo

David himself may be on our label, but given we didn’t release this ourselves I am giving myself an exemption from my usual rule of excluding anything we are directly involved in from these lists. Fuck it, this is amazing, and given David released the Juice Vocal Ensemble collaboration this year, as well as appearing on our latest Split 12″, and also has a triple – yes, triple – vinyl album ready to go for 2015 as well I marvel at the man’s productivity. Even more freeform than Powerdove, this is another one of those albums which veers from the absolutely gorgeous to the aggressively discordant, but that’s what makes it great.

5. Now Wakes the Sea – Bildungsroman

Another under-appreciated gem from pretty much my favourite non-Toad Scottish band at the moment. This isn’t all quite as slow or minimal as its predecessor, in fact there are some breezy, clattery, lo-fi pop songs in here, but that awkward screech is never too far away – it’s an album which teeters on the edge, but a band which is comfortable enough with this that they handle it with increasing confidence. Proof, if ever any more was needed, that Scotland is WRONG about music.

So there you go. I suppose, all my disclaimers at the top of the page notwithstanding, that this top five is just about the most inevitable of any list out there on the internet. You all know by now, if you read this site with any regularity, that I love all five of these bands and have done for ages. Still, not many of these, with the possible exception of Timber Timbre, seem to have made it onto a lot of other people’s lists so I hope that this wee nudge might encourage you to check them out.

And now… ON WITH 2015!