Song, by Toad

avatar

Toadcast #311 – Virgin of the Birds Toad Session

Virgin of the Birds Toad Session from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Photos – Flickr
VideoVimeoYouTube
Session tracks Soundcloud – zip download (right click – save as)
Interview podcast – mp3 – iTunes – Mixcloud (playlist at bottom of page)

Virgin of the Birds first started to become part of the Toad family when he played our first ever New Year’s House Gig back in, erm… I dunno, was it 2009 maybe? Jon’s free EPs were pretty much all firm favourites around here, and despite the understatement of his music it was stuff I just kept going back to again and again.

I liked them so much that when we released our 5 Year Box Set Jon and I put together a compilation of the very best bits to release on record, and then, despite having not had a formal Virgin of the Birds release for years he suddenly came up with a new album around the same time. The timing was ideal, and so we ended up releasing that in May as well, coincidentally around the time Jon came over to the UK to play some shows.

Mrs. Toad and I had just moved house, and so this ended up being the first session recorded in our new place – with a whole new set of neighbours to annoy. Neil and Reuben from Supermoon helped out by playing on a couple of the tracks, the awesome Nic Rue took the pictures for us again, and Dylan, Ian and Steve all came round to say hello and occasionally get roped into helping me and Nic with the filming. So yes, this is what Toad Sessions are going to look like from now on. No more turquoise walls!

Full Interview Podcast:

Toadcast #311 – Virgin of the Birds Toad Session by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Session Tracks:

Session Videos:

 

 

 

Podcast Tracklisting:

01. Virgin of the Birds – Queen of Sweden (Toad Session) (00.22)
02. The Delgados – Been Accused of Stealing (live) (12.26)
03. Pavement – Frontwards (18.49)
04. Virgin of the Birds – Let Me Be Your Bride (Toad Session) (31.05)
05. The Savings and Loan – Catholic Boys in the Rain (44.10)
06. The Lovely Sparrows – Bury the Cynics (48:30)
07. Virgin of the Birds – The Serpent Plume (Toad Session) (58.19)
08. Meursault – Crank Resolutions (1.09.02)
09. Liz Phair – May Queen (1.13.55)
10. Virgin of the Birds – Ilona, You Should Still Be My Vampire Attendant (Toad Session) (1.25.57)

avatar

Song, by Toad Records’ Year in Review

8 ambitious futility

Phew, fucking hell, nearly there! Another year comes careering to an end, with little in the sense of control, planning or even semi-coherence to sellotape it all together.

One thing, though, it’s been a fucking great year. Not a single other label out there has come close to matching the kind of stuff we’ve put out in 2014 as far as I am concerned. And alright, that statement might sound delusional or just plain arrogant to you, but music is all about personal taste and I am supposed to think that, am I not? There’s no point starting a label if you aren’t going to release your own favourite music, and if you thought that was already being done then you wouldn’t have the motivation to start in the first place, would you.

There’s a Soundcloud playlist at the bottom of the page if you want to check for yourselves.

People say that time flies, and it does, I suppose, but January 2014 seems like a very long way away indeed. There were normal records to be planned of course, but before we could get into that we had to record and release what turned out to be Meursault’s last album: The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.

That was my first real brush with crowd-funding, and I think it went really well. Getting people to vote on the songs worked nicely, and we ended up with a record which had broken even before it was even released. It made me wonder rather seriously about why we can’t manage this the rest of the time, but I suppose the project itself had a few uniquely suitable aspects which can’t really be reproduced.

It was financially successful of course, but oddly enough we couldn’t get anyone to fucking review the thing, despite Meursault being one of our most widely-covered bands for every one of their other releases. Maybe it was because it was mostly covers, maybe because it was crowd-funded, or maybe because it was released (and hence old news) almost before we even knew ourselves what kind of album it was going to be, but honestly it made the music press look particularly stupid in my eyes.

It’s one thing when magazines decide to only review this or that kind of release, but the internet was supposed to free us from that kind of pointless nonsense, and yet all the big online magazines seem to be drifting into mimicking the established press, and I really don’t think that is either a good thing, or in any way necessary, really.

Anyhow, as badly as we’ve fared with the press this year you do find yourself developing a rather acute appreciated of the people who have actually supported you.  As well as some of the online and print publications who have continued to be so supportive, we’ve had amazing results with the radio this year too.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was the first sign that things might not be so predictable in terms of what appealed to radio shows. 6Music put five minute instrumental drone track Drone Armatrading on heavy rotation, and Palisade (a gorgeous track, but downbeat as fuck and loooong) did really well too.

These radio results finally cemented in my head the idea what we really have to stop second-guessing what radio will actually want and just send them our favourite stuff. Received wisdom is that you’re supposed to only really send them three-minute pop songs with hummable riffs and an obvious chorus, but this year has pretty much shown that to be utter bollocks so from now on that approach is going out the window. We’ll put out the songs we think best represent why we love an album, and balls if they’re the sensible choice or not.

Considering our struggles with press recently, I have to confess I was a little nervous about releasing the Virgin of the Birds album Winter Seeds in May. Given Jon lives in Seattle, which makes it impossible to try and build grassroots support never mind persuade the jittery hipsters of the internet to write about the album, I thought it could be really heavy going but actually the response was fantastic. We got some great reviews, and Charlie Ashcroft and Dani Charlton at Amazing Radio got right behind the record too, so the whole thing felt like it went really well.

Here at Song, by Toad Records we have something of a knack for releasing albums by bands who subsequently either cease to exist or just go so quiet that they might as well have ceased to exist, which is a surefire way to complete financial ruin. We have such a nose for that kind of project that it even works with festivals too. Our third Split 12″ was released in June, at a time designed to coincide with the Insider Festival, where the record itself was actually recorded the previous year. Except there was no Insider Festival this year.

Still, despite it ending up looking slightly orphaned, it is still a gorgeous record with some wonderfully odd moments, and actually served as a perfect precursor to to the David Thomas Broughton and Jonnie Common albums we released later in the year. That wasn’t particularly the plan when we set out our release schedule, but it did work out rather nicely in the end.

There was a brief interruption to the planned schedule with the second Pale Imitation Festival in August. It went fantastically again, although I have to question my wisdom in starting the damn thing. The idea was to fight back at the fact that the Edinburgh Festival more or less forces us to cease operations during August because we have no chance of being heard over the din, but the Pale Imitation Festival is such hard work that it actually ends up being more disruptive than just having to take a month off so, er… yes, I am a fool. What of it?

And far from having August off, actually during all the Pale Imitation stuff I ended having to work in all the press for Sliding the Same Way, the collaborative album by David Thomas Broughton and the Juice Vocal Ensemble. A bit like Bastard Mountain, this is another semi-improvised record which is primarily in the ‘alt-folk’ bracket I suppose but which is so tinged with oddness that the genre becomes irrelevant, it’s the personality of the album which dominates.

Jonnie Common’s Trapped in Amber is similar, in that sense. Nominally it is experimental electronic pop, I suppose, but his personality is so stamped all over the album that it is this which becomes its defining characteristic.

It’s part of the frustration of being a small label with pretty limited resources I suppose, but with both of these last two records I felt that I didn’t really do a good enough job with the PR.  I contacted all the right people of course, and I did it in plenty of time, but given the coverage both artists have had in the past and the quality of the records in question I feel like I should have got them way more coverage than I did.

In both cases the reception was great, and the radio play more than compensated for a lack of written press – and radio listeners actually buy records too, whereas I have never seen any link between sales and written reviews – but I can’t help but feel this is something I seriously need to look at next year because I don’t think the label is really cutting the mustard in that sense at the moment. Of course it doesn’t help when all the supposedly alternative publications are wasting both their and our time covering mainstream pop acts, but we still need to improve, I think.

And so finally, here we are, more or less at the end of the year, with just time for one last release: the Couch King EP by the erratic, prolific, unpredictable and occasionally inspired Passion Pusher. He may be all over the place at times, but there is some great stuff in amongst the madness and I really hope he can harness it in the future, because I love some of the stuff he does.

Couch King was also our first tape release, which I am hoping will be significant. Mrs. Toad and I moved in May, to a house with a small warehouse on the grounds, and in the New Year we are going to turn it into an informal recording studio. That will hopefully allow us to do more Split 12″s and Toad Sessions, and to encourage more projects like Farewell, Bastard Mountain and The Organ Grinder’s Monkey – loose, creative projects which are nevertheless quite intense, but hugely exciting and rewarding to be involved with.

I’m already working on a number of really exciting releases for next year, and you’ll all be getting a Christmas present on the 25th which will introduce you to some of our new projects, but for now I think I am going to take it a bit easy and relax for a few days.  I’ll do my end of year album list, and put my feet up with Mrs. Toad, who quite bafflingly continues to encourage all this.

It’s been an incredible year, and I am both really proud of what our existing comrades have achieved, and proud of the people who liked what we were doing enough to want to join us. Song, by Toad Records represents an amazing group of really interesting, creative people and I think next year I want to do more to emphasise that, just amongst ourselves as much as anything else. I might not be all that great at actually running the label all the time, but in being a part of it you are associating yourself with some properly amazing people.

And when we move back into our now-refurbished living room later this week I might just put on our records from this year one after another, drink too much gin, and reflect that yes, the world really is wrong about music.

avatar

Krill – Lucky Leaves

krill Krill (I think it’s just one guy) seems to be doing pretty well in the States, with features in Stereogum and Pitchfork and some high-profile support slots to their name, but they still feel like a fledgling band just finding their way.

Their Bandcamp page suggests that they’ve been around for a couple of years now, but there’s something about the sound and the scornful, snarled self-excoriation of the lyrics which seems to suggest youth finding its first, unbridled musical expression of all sorts of previously buried things.

Although maybe my impression has more to do with the people who pointed me in the direction of the band, who are in their late teens themselves, and maybe I put two and two together and got five.

There’s a lot of cripplingly awkward slop rock knocking around my stereo at the moment, a lot of it so belligerently disinterested as to head off questions about quality or musicianship before they can even be formed.  This has a little in common with that stuff, I suppose, in that it has a fiercely snarled, nasal quality which perhaps heads off the judgementalism in a slightly different way, but nevertheless has the same effect.

It may have elements of self-pity in the lyrics, with Sick Dogs line about simply wanting to wallow in his own guilt being a prime example, but the ferocity of the delivery brings such venom to the sentiment that it doesn’t feel much like self-indulgent navel-gazing. It does get a bit intense at times, tipping just over into shrieking at times, like the rather annoying tail end of Infinite Power, but mostly it’s comfortably on the right side of that particular line.

Sick Dogs and the two which follow, Purity of Heart and This Morning, are maybe the ones which took me beyond the aesthetic and the intensity of the delivery into the tunes themselves, for there are pop songs here, buried beneath the apoplexy.

I didn’t think so at first – I basically just heard the attitude and the way it is spat out – but this is a fantastic album. Headphones and three hours at Heathrow fucking airport can have a really good effect on your ability to take proper time to let an album sink in. And this album is most definitely worth taking the time with.

Tags:
avatar

Hot Lunch – Drew Bought a Computer

hotlunch Yet more garage rock for me (irrespective of the actual presence or otherwise of a real life garage in the making of this music), and I suppose me liking this album is going to surprise absolutely no-one, but ummm… well it’s really good, so you should have a listen.

The band apparently broke up several years ago, but these recordings are only now making their way onto Bandcamp so for me they’re basically new releases.

The internet may often be criticised for providing us with a near-infinite ‘long tail’ of shit which no-one will ever listen to or ever even notice is there. Technically I suppose this would be covered by that, as would a fair bit of the stuff we release ourselves, but one man’s irrelevance is another man’s undiscovered gem, and this is why I love the internet sometimes.

I’d hesitate to call this experimental, although it meanders all over the place and seems to care pretty much nil for traditional song structures or even emotional arcs. It’s more… carefree. It just heads off in whatever direction it pleases and stops when it’s done.

You might not even call this an album really, in the sense that it doesn’t feel like it has much of a purpose beyond to indulge the whims of its creators. That might be a weakness, but it feels like it is also one of its best features to me. That playfulness rather obviates the need for any more structure – it’s the raison d’être of the album all by itself, and if you want to follow where it is going, then you simply have to embrace it.

There will be times when you wonder what the fuck they’re getting at I suppose, such as the stumbling, distracted intro to (Here Comes) the Rounded One, although the song does get itself together by the end. Sort of.

Instrumental opener The Secret of the Ooze is a bit more focussed, and it may be a bit off, but the guitar licks in that song are fantastic.

I suppose this is distracted, kind of psychedelic garage rock, and it’s the distractions which will either make it special to you or turn you off the album completely. Personally, I think it’s fucking ace.

avatar

Garden of Elks Sign to Song, by Toad Records

A Distorted Sigh Hi Res

Yup, it gives me great pleasure to formally announce the first of our new bands for 2015 (there will be a couple – keep an eye out for your Christmas present on the 25th): Garden of Elks.

Because the first tracks they ever recorded were done by a friend of mine I think it’s fair to say that I’m one of the band’s earliest supporters, but that doesn’t matter for shit if you don’t follow through on your enthusiasm, does it? NO, so we’ve just reached an agreement to release their debut album next year, and I am really excited about it.

Admittedly ‘signing’ to this label is rather over-stating what happens. I send an email saying ‘fuck it, let’s do this’ and the band either say ‘hooray’ or ‘piss off’ and that’s about as formal as it ever gets, but however it happens we have ten tracks of short, sharp indie rock on vinyl or cassette coming your way in Spring 2015.

And to make things even better, they’re playing our Christmas party on Saturday 20th (yes, THIS SATURDAY!) at Henry’s. So come on down, get pished, and laugh at me as I stumble about the place.

avatar

Body Cheetah & Messed Up Coyote – Clang

Clang Having first discovered Body Cheetah only a few days ago, I ended up browsing the Bandcamp page of their label, Woozy Tribe, and amongst the other excellent stuff I found was this.

The fact that two bands called Body Cheetah and Messed Up Coyote ended up making a record together sounds almost like the sort of one-dimensional logic which pairs Facebook users with the ads on the site (uh, y’all like animals, right?), but whoever put these two together and why, they did a very fine thing.

This could almost be early-noughties edgy high school movie-friendly pop music, but if it is then there is something deeply wrong with it. It is almost like someone was asked to write music for that kind of film by someone they deeply disliked, so they’ve put a lot of the right elements in there and then taken to the surface of everything with a fucking hammer, leaving it all twisted and smashed, but still demonically rasping away like a talking doll which refuses to die.

For people like me, of course, this deliberate obfuscation nudges the music squarely into the territory of being very much my kind of thing. The beats are slow, but they are there and the arrive with plenty of emphasis and just a touch of malevolence.

It’s definitely insistent and aggressive, but more in the way of glaringly menacingly at you from the end of the bar, rather than getting right up in your face. It just sneers and snarls, but not in the guitar-bass-drums way I tend to listen to, but smothered in electronic effects, and beats l suppose you’d call kinda trip-hoppy*.

I’ve almost liked a lot of music in this sort of vein, but I have to confess this is probably the first time I’ve just thought ‘fuck yeah, this is what I was hoping for’.

*They used that term on their Bandcamp page – as you know, I wouldn’t know Trip Hop if a bunny rabbit offered me acid.

avatar

Alex G – Trick

alexgtrick This album was released two years ago on a now-defunct record label, but you can still find copies here if you want. I only just happened across it myself, so I am decreeing it entirely new for the purposes of Toad, just in case me writing about slightly old music bothers you at all.

I always assume people who describe their music in as half-arsed a fashion as this (“pop dick fuck hot nice pussy shit xxx Philadelphia”) are just bedroom noodlers with little or no interest in getting their music out there, but Alex Giannascoli has done pretty well at getting noticed by some very credible people indeed. I suppose I should learn not to judge the artist by the front presented by their aesthetic.

Admittedly this can get a bit soft around the edges at times – something of a Diet Eliot Smith on tracks like Forever if I was to be purposefully harsh about it – but for the most part this is, if not eccentric, a distinct take on a familiar format. It’s slacker bedroom pop, with a bit of thrum going on, but it feels like its own animal.

You don’t get hooks here per se, more shifts and diversions which repeat and then change, more like a flock of birds than anything else – you can never be sure if you’ll get an endlessly repeating pattern or a sudden dart towards somewhere different. It feels airy and light too, as a record.

So having finally found this one, I see Alex has a new album out, which you can buy here, and reviews from the Quietus and fucking Pitchfork as well. Boy is my finger ever not on the pulse these days.

Tags:
avatar

David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – Unshaven Boozer

From the first few moments this does actually sound like a sort of ironic Christmas single, I suppose. It’s deceptive. The light-hearted delivery of the chorus, along with the relatively flippant-sounding words… and then that turns out to be a complete red herring.

It’s actually a rather heart-breaking lament about feeling on the scrap-heap in a world which no longer entirely works in the way it used to, but that chorus is still so completely infectious you find yourself humming it anyway.

Well balls, it’s about time we had a Christmas single. Even if it’s of rather questionable suitability.

Unshaven Boozer is The second single from David Thomas Broughton and Juice’s glorious album Sliding the Same Way, released in September on Song, by Toad Records. Have a look at how gorgeous the CDs are here.

“ I have heard nothing, nothing, nothing like Sliding the Same Way.” – “the loveliest voice on record this year.” Gold Flake Paint
nothing short of genius” – “a measured missile, straight to the heart” Is This Music
“…it’s as if the songs have been written, then broken into their component parts to lie, glittering, across the
running time.” Alan Morrison, The Herald
“Startling and beautifully unsettling” “A beautiful and profoundly affecting record.” Americana UK
“an unorthodox beauty.” The Skinny
“…an absolute belter, packed full of the sort of belligerent eccentricity we all need” – “…the sort of thing Ivor Cutler or John Cale would have made around 1972” Incendiary Mag
“a peaceful masterpiece” Shout4music
“the most idiosyncratic and memorable record you’ll hear this year.” Sounds XP
“Broughton’s skill as a lyricist shines” – “the richness of life and death in a way … both sincere and ridicu- lous, and therefore honest.” Soundblab

avatar

So This is Supermoon

Since the demise of Meursault I’ve had a lot of people ask me what Supermoon, Neil Pennycook’s new project, is going to be like. A sort of continuation of Meursault? Something entirely new?  Given how distinctive his voice is, can it ever really sound hugely different, especially as Meursault had so much range in the first place?  And the answer is that I honestly just don’t know.

Looking at a recent interview Neil did with Wow247 I don’t necessarily know if Neil himself has that much idea really, although I think it has been slowly crystallising in recent weeks.

If you want to find out then the best way will be to keep an eye on the Supermoon Soundcloud page, because Neil is embarking on his first official Supermoon project. Called A Month of Black Fridays, he’ll be posting a new song there every Friday this month – all really minimal home recordings – and then working these songs up with a couple of others into a what is going to be Supermoon’s first formal(ish) release.

That will be a relatively lo-fi and sketch-like album of songs, working towards something more polished and formal later in 2015. These were the plans last time Neil and I had a whisky, at least. Who knows, they could easily still change in future.

Keep an eye on that Soundcloud in the meantime though…

avatar

S>C>R>A>P>S – O/s

scraps I actually happened across this Australian band called s>c>r>a>p>s (yes, that is the last time I am ever typing that fucking name out in full) by searching for another Australian band called Scraps, who happen to have an excellent record out at the moment on the fantastic Bedroom Suck label.

Instead, I found this scraps, and for all they are very much not what I was looking for, I really liked what I found. Another band with a flair for fucking with Bandcamp tags, this lot throw the terms ‘slow-dance romance, hypno-jog fantasy, top of the pops, granny porn, dick van dork and mary ploppins’ at the wall and, in all honesty, for the most part they all kinda stick to a degree.

The music is certainly hypnotic, in a slightly frantic sort of way. It has a manic energy which seems to be stretching the songs in all sort of directions, stumbling over trying to get them out fast enough to be able to move onto something else.

Then there are other times when it seems to just be wandering along as if it’s lost, the continuous rattle of the tinny beat the only thing holding such a loose collection of sounds together closely enough to refer to it as a song. Peeling Chestnuts doesn’t just feel barely-realised, it feels barely-conceived. The tiniest fragment of an idea just tottering along waiting to be forgotten or flung into proper existence, but managing neither.

Frankfurter Alle is underpinned by some gloriously foreboding organ, but You Won’t Miss Me is another skitterer, twitching around like a panicking house pet.

They can write gorgeous stuff when they want to though. Siri is fucking lovely, for example, and the strings lend it a sense of emotional weight which is welcome, and knowing that this kind of thing could emerge at any point almost makes the more frantic moments all the more tantalising.

It’s as if you’ve glimpsed the perch, the pose and the plumage, but for now the damn bird insists on flapping around the room in a deranged panic, steadfastly refusing to either sit still or to find the open window and escape back to where it belongs.

A weird record, and a complete accident, but in between the baffling moments there is some great stuff here.

Tags: