Song, by Toad

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Old Earth – A Wake in the Wells

oldearth Old Earth have been something of a favourite around these parts for some time now. We recorded a Toad Session with Todd a year or two ago when he and his girlfriend came over to Scotland, and I spent most of the recent Edinburgh Independent Label Market enthusiastically encouraging people to buy his album from the neighbouring stall, rather than attempting to hawk my own wares.

It’s bloody fantastic stuff though. This album perhaps reminds me more of the feel of the Toad Session, with jangly guitars quite prominent and the buzzy soundscapes perhaps more sparingly embraced.

Todd is pretty clear on how he wants his music to be listened to, and does more than most bands I know to gently but firmly coerce you into a certain manner of interaction. Songs often have no gaps between them, often joined by long, overlapping musical interludes, and it’s not uncommon for three separate songs to be contained in a single track. The songs on this album don’t even have names of their own.

Umhoefer’s rationale is that he is not making pop music. It could be perceived as a rather snotty approach, and I suppose I’d have to accept that interpretation, but I still rather like his way of thinking. None of us are getting rich doing this, so if there isn’t a financial imperative and you don’t have other people’s salaries to pay, then surely the only question to ask yourself is exactly what sort of work you want to put out into the world.

For Todd, that’s a little over half an hour of music which belongs together as a single piece, and which works best when embraced as such. Why should he pander to the requirement of the single, discreet two-and-a-half-minute pop song if that’s fundamentally not what he is trying to do. There are pop songs there, but they emerge from a sort of ground zero atmospheric thrum which seems to undulate through the background of the whole record as a sort of general mood in which the entire thing exists.

It’s like the background of traffic, footfall and chatter which exists all around us in our home towns – it’s just part of the world we are inhabiting, and within that world certain things are off in the distance and others come more sharply into focus when you engage with them. It’s not a revolutionary way of making music, but the clarity of vision and unconcerned determination with which Todd sticks to his ideas are both things I really admire. Plus, of course, it’s a great fucking record.

Get one here on vinyl or digital.

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Becky Becky – Good Morning, Midnight

becky It’s rare that I write about synthy discopop really, but I suppose that’s because most of it leaves me pretty cold. Silver Columns stick in my head as the last time I properly got enthusiastic about this kind of stuff I suppose, and that was fucking ages ago.

It’s an interesting connection though, because Pete (one half of Becky Becky) released some bits and pieces on Fence Records years ago under the name of Art Pedro. It was ramshackle as fuck, but I loved it, and he actually emailed me about this project years ago but I have to confess I never quite got into it.

The other half of the band is Gemma from the now-retired Woodpecker Wooliams project, and perhaps it was her odd but hugely compelling voice which gave me something familiar to latch onto with the Becky Becky stuff. Well that and having it on casual rotation for a long while. Slowly this stuff creeps up on you, you know.

I am not sure why this stands out above all the other similar stuff I don’t like. Perhaps tunes like I Remember, I Remember… don’t try too hard to grab your attention, but succeed despite this. Maybe its the slight theatricality – tunes like The House of the Black Madonna for example. It’s dark without being dense or try-hard, and I suppose just moody and dismissive enough to not just fall into that ‘oh fuck, not another synth-pop album’ trap which so much of this stuff ends up in for me.

Gemma’s voice has a weird knack of being elusive, vulnerable and confrontational at the same time, and this meshes well with the music itself here, which can embrace full-on disco-pop cliché for a while and then subtly drift into something more muffled and odd. It’s like an image which drifts slightly out of focus during the very times you most want it to be clear.

You can get a copy on CD or mp3 from their Bandcamp page, here. It really does leave me wondering why I didn’t properly pay attention the first time.

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Edinburgh Council Completely Embarrassed by Queen’s Hall Fiasco

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Wonderful. Edinburgh Council spent Monday evening persuading people working in music here in Edinburgh that they are sincerely looking to find ways to encourage live music to flourish in the city, and not let it be dragged down by single complainants intent on damaging the cultural life of the city because they didn’t realise that moving in next to a music venue might involve hearing said venue going about its business from time to time.

And then today the Queen’s Hall was forced to remove all its external advertising because of a single complainant who objected. And instead of laughing at that complainant and telling them to grow up and piss off the council capitulated, and in doing so basically make themselves look a bit stupid at best, and craven, cynical and dishonest at worst.

Or, in slightly more familiar language for readers of this site: Jesus fucking Christ, this really is unbe-fucking-lievable, for fuck’s sake.

Neil Cooper – a journalist and formidable campaigner for the arts here in the city – pointed out the almost comically stupid double-standard here. When the Picture House was sold to Wetherspoons to be made into a megapub the likes of which Edinburgh very clearly does not have even the slightest need for, 13000 people signed a petition to protect it as a music venue. This in a city where they are closing all the time and we need as many as we can possibly preserve. So one complainant gets to prevent the Queen’s Hall advertising their own business, one crucial to the cultural life of the city. But 13,000 complainants asking the council to stand up to the big breweries are all ignored.

The imbalance is so utterly ridiculous it basically makes them either look stupid or corrupt. I have no idea which.

Now, the council seemed entirely sincere when they attended the meeting on Monday, and it seemed like a really productive conversation with genuine intent to tackle the problem, so this news today just seems embarrassing, but it highlights the problem very, very clearly. Simply put, one person complaining should never be able to have such a massively negative impact on one of the cornerstones and genuine work-horses of the city’s cultural life. It’s fucking ludicrous.

The Queen’s Hall may not seem like they support the local music scene all that much. You don’t see Edinburgh bands playing there all that often, let’s face it, but that’s because they’re a big venue and very few local bands can actually fill it. Having said that, as soon as anyone gets to that level, the support they give is fantastic. Withered Hand, Broken Records, Stanley Odd and Meursault have all graduated from the circuit of smaller venues to play the Queen’s Hall in recent years, and Plastic Animals, eagleowl and Rob St. John have all played support slots there. And that’s just Edinburgh bands. R.M. Hubbert, Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote, Randolph’s Leap… all these bands have come from the Scottish underground to play headline slots at the Queen’s Hall.

In fact, even if they can’t necessarily get away with it the rest of the year, the Queen’s Hall specifically take advantage of the extra footfall during the Edinburgh Festival to take a chance on other local bands who might not be able to fill the place otherwise. In other words, they know exactly what is going on and they give as much support to the local scene as they can, whenever they get the opportunity.

And that’s not even mentioning more adventurous stuff like Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bastard Mountain and #Unravel – all risky, artistically ambitious projects related to music, but with much broader scope, which they have supported in recent years.

So, Edinburgh Council, the appropriate response when one dude objects to the Queen’s Hall relatively discreetly advertising their own business, a business which is a massive boost to the cultural life in Edinburgh, on the front of their own building, is this:

“Fuck off, you tedious, self-important idiot and stop wasting absolutely everyone’s fucking time with this bollocks.”

I won’t even trademark the response, so feel free to copy and paste it from this site for future correspondence.  The meeting should not have taken any more than about five minutes. “This guy’s a fucking tool right?” “Right” “Shall I just tell him to fuck off.” “Yeah I think so. We’ve wasted too much time thinking about it already.” “Cool.”  And that’s it. It deserved no more of your time than that. And no other response.

Because, let’s be clear about this Edinburgh Council, you should be absolutely embarrassed that this outcome was even suggested, never mind ratified. THIS is why you are such a big problem. It’s laughable. It’s pathetic. It makes you look like complete fools to absolutely everyone, and like enemies of the very community you are employed to administer. You are here to make our city work for us, remember.

Given the state of Nicholson Street in general, the very idea that you actually entertained this complaint for longer than it actually took you to read it all beggars belief. If the advertising was too cluttered and contravened planning regulations you may feel your hands are tied, but all you have to do is enter into a plan with the Queen’s Hall to tidy it up. This response is as needless as it is stupid.

13000 people can’t prevent an giant factory pub opening on Lothian Road, but one imbecile can interfere this seriously in a crucial creative enterprise.  I dearly, dearly hope Monday’s meeting is the first step down a road which ensures this sort of embarrassing nonsense never happens again. It genuinely seemed like there was a will to change within the council and I hope that is true.

Just commit to memory the fact that next time this happens all you really have to say is ‘ha ha, piss off’. That’s all.

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Toadcast #309 – The Edincast

tag I can’t really believe I’ve not done an Edincast before. I mean, I live here, I work here, I run a label here and I go out to gigs here all the time. How has this not happened yet? I’ve done numerous Scottish ones, label ones, and even Manchester ones although I’m not really from there, but Edinburgh has never happened for some reason.

And why has it happened now? Well I was at the Creative Edinburgh Awards last night and had put together an Edinburgh playlist specifically for the purpose, but the organisers (probably very wisely) just asked the DJs to play through, instead of using my stuff, so I never had the chance to annoy people with my deliberately obtuse choices. Actually, most of them weren’t all that obtuse really… just one or two.

So given the muzzling yesterday I figured I could just put most of these songs on a podcast and, let’s face it, play them to a much more receptive audience. I mean, The Leg, The Love Gestures, Passion Pusher… not really suitable for last night’s Gathering of the Middle Classes. It was fun, though. There was awesome cake and our pals Olaf (Born to Be Wide) and Tommy Perman and Rob St. John (Water of Life) both won awards.  And I had too much gin. So a good night all round, really!

Toadcast #309 – The Edincast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #309 – The Edincast

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01. The Shop Assistants – I Don’t Wanna Be Friends With You (01.40)
02. Fire Engines – Sympathetic Anaesthetic (07.27)
03. Idlewild – I’m A Message (12.53)
04. Lucky Jim – You Stole My Heart Away (15.33)
05. The Love Gestures – Hey Man (20.24)
06. FOUND – Machine Age Dancing (27.46)
07. Broken Records – So Long, So Late (36.19)
08. Numbers Are Futile – Monster (46.05)
09. Passion Pusher – Couch King (50.19)
10. Young Fathers – Get Up (59.55)

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Don’t Make a Scene

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A couple of years ago I wrote a surprisingly popular post called ‘A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along’. I’d just got into regular gig promotion and was only just starting to get my head around the difficulties of doing it right. I’d spent a lot of time around bands at that point, and had heard complaint after complaint about promoters, whether they be amateurish, dishonest, spiteful, or just disorganised and I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to become one of those promoters.

It’s tough though. As I started to get my head around it I started to realise, for example, just how hard it is to pay a band a decent fee. Never mind all the other stuff about decent food, a nice place to stay, actually turning up at the gig and being friendly – it’s actually tough as fuck to even do the bare minimum and pay a band even a cursory fee. So I wrote about it – about all the pressures on a promoter and all the pitfalls they face, and about what I myself understood about the difficulties of touring and what makes a gig feel worthwhile or otherwise for a band.

Basically I was trying to show how hard it is to make the requirements and obligations of both actually meet in the middle. I’d heard so much about dreadful promoters, but I also thought a lot of bands didn’t really appreciate how tough the job was and I thought some explanation of the mismatch of expectations or the simple impossibility of some of the economics would be helpful in making things a bit less attritional.

Rob St. John and Bart from eagleowl are two people who have both toured extensively in bands, both their own and other people’s, and who have also spent significant periods of time doing regular DIY gig promotion. They’ve both experienced the frustrations of both sides of this particular fence, so some time earlier this year they decided to compile a collection of anecdotes and advice from people involved in DIY gig promotion, to try and give people a bit of help navigating this particularly tricky terrain. They kindly asked me to contribute, and so I sort of re-visited the article I told you about above.

The resulting zine is called Don’t Make a Scene, and you can pre-order one here (they’ll be posted out in late November).  There are loads of other contributors too, along with illustrators and photographers, and I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I am really looking forward to getting my grubby hands on one.

Contributors include Chris Tipton (Upset the Rhythm, London: ‘Curate your event with imagination, honour and taste’), Sofia Hagberg (End of the Road / Sam and Sofia, Sheffield: ‘Advancing a show’), Emily Tracer Trails (Edinburgh and Glasgow: ‘A guide to not losing money on gigs’), Fielding Hope (Cry Parrot / Cafe Oto, Glasgow / London: ‘Applying for funding’), Andy Inglis (5000 / former manager of the Luminaire, London: ‘We’re good at taking things for free’), Matthew Young (Song, by Toad, Edinburgh: ‘Bridging the promoter-musician gap’), Johnny Lynch (Lost Map, Isle of Eigg: ‘Some things I’ve learnt about putting on gigs’) and Andy Abbott (That Fucking Tank, Leeds: ‘DIY bother? Reasons to keep doing it’) and many more.

Don’t Make a Scene contains new visual art, illustration and photography by Lizzy Stewart, Tommy Perman, Sarah Tanat-Jones (Synaesthete / Kit Records), Craig Coulthard, Neil Cammock, Matt Pattinson and Cammy Watt (Enfant Bastard).  

The zine features an interview with Marie Tippex (from booking agent Julie Tippex), and articles on DIY sound engineering by Tim Matthew (regular engineer for Lau); all-ages gigs by eagleowl’s Clarissa Cheong, setting up DJs and club nights by Malcolm Benzie (Papi Falso) and Lisa Brook (founder of Cafe Kino in Bristol and DJ Cupcake); and advice for prospective promoters from experienced touring musicians David Thomas Broughton, Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Dan Willson (Withered Hand).

The first edition of 300 copies will be released on 24th November 2014, reasonably priced at £4, and will be available for pre-order through dontmakeascene.co.uk.  Don’t Make a Scene was riso printed by Footprint Workers Co-op in Leeds using soy inks on recycled paper.

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Grace Joyner – Young Fools

grace So I don’t like pop music eh, well what about this, you fuckers, what about this? Well I suppose it’s a counter-argument but only kind of. A lot of this is pretty damn morose, and needless to say those are my favourite bits. It does get pretty pop at times, such as Holy, and inevitably that is my least favourite song on the album, but most of this is really good.

Off the top of my head there are a few loose comparisons to give you a rough idea of the kind of territory we’re in here – some of that wounded glamour of Lana Del Rey, a horribly depressed cousin of Nicole Atkins, or perhaps a less affected Angel Olsen. None of these comparisons are that great, but they put you in roughly the right ballpark.

Although I don’t love any of those artists, there is definitely a bit of something in all of them that I like to varying extents, and I think Joyner comes closest to nailing it. This is old-fashioned, but still modern. The synths are moody without being prominent, and the drumming sounds like a drum machine (although looking at the photos it would appear the band do have a drummer).

I suppose, put simply, I prefer this because it is quite lo-fi and stripped back. I remember early Nicole Atkins, and how there was a sort of gloriously amateurish glamour to it.  Lana Del Rey’s album may have been a lifeless, embarrassing mess, but there was something incredible about the direct, unsettling feel of Video Games.  So of course Holy isn’t really my cup of tea, but I think Young Fools is fucking great: bitter and wounded, but fantastically light and elusive.

I’m sure it would be crap for her career to embrace the miserable, weird and the uncomfortable side of her music and move in the direction of the fantastic Powerdove or Lady Lazarus, but I reckon I would love the results. This EP teeters on the brink of either approach – pop or anti-pop –  and Joyner could do either. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and this may just be a digital release, but I am most curious too see what the future holds.

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Aberdeen Label Market

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Do you live in Aberdeen? Do you give a shit – even a teeny-tiny little shit – about the records we release here at Song, by Toad Records? Of course you do. So come down to the Lemon Tree on Saturday 15th, where we and several of our other label pals will be setting up shop with our latest releases and probably spending so much money on other people’s records that the whole thing ends up seeming a bit silly, but hey ho, records and fun, you can’t argue with that.

And trivial nonsense aside, since the demise of One Up, I don’t think Aberdeen has actually had a decent record shop, although in my ignorance I could be doing someone a grave disservice here, making this kind of event even more important. I’ve said before that we don’t really make much money doing these label markets, once you take all the travel into account, as well as the amount we tend to spend on booze and other people’s records, but I still think they’re really important.

Mostly, I think it’s the type of fan who comes along which makes it important. I think you have to be pretty dedicated and pretty knowledgeable about your music to even realise these things take place (normal people don’t really follow the announcements of tiny indie labels), so the people you tend to meet at these events tend to be the most important fans, really: the ones who come back time and again, who know every artist on a label even if they don’t unconditionally love them all, and the people for whom their love of weird, under the radar music is really important. And I think it’s important that we keep a good connection with folk like that, because ultimately they are the same as us, and their dedication keeps small labels alive.

As for us, we’ll have a couple of new releases for sale: the new Passion Pusher tape and the CD version (not the vinyl yet, sorry) of the new Jonnie Common record Trapped in Amber. Please do come along and say hello. And do remember that Jonnie’s Aberdeen album launch is actually this Thursday at Downstairs with Christ and Colin Austin.

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Trips and Falls – Your Consequences Are Bullshit

Trips and Falls are fucking ace. We released their third album last year, The Inevitable Consequences of Your Stupid Behavior, and they have just completed this remix project with their friend Justin Hamilton, and it’s bloody brilliant.

It’s basically a single, seventeen-minute song consisting of chopped up and remixed songs from the album, and it’s ace. The woozy weirdness mixed with pop sensibilities which drew me to the band in the first place is pushed right over to the weird side of the spectrum here, and it works fantastically well.

For a band who had a (brilliant) song on their first album – You Should Really Get Yours – which pretty much sounds like it’s being played backwards, their latest album was actually relatively sensible by comparison, but without changing the feel of the songs themselves too much they’ve managed to really tease out the idiosyncratic core, and produce a really compelling work of psychedelic* weirdness. Great stuff.

The band have these thank-yous, so I thought I should pass them on too:

First we would like to thank Justin Hamilton for his work on these remixes, without which this project would have never happened. Also, Mr. Jeremy Schruder who masterfully took all of the pics associated with this project. Thanks Jer! Mr. Orson Presence for his recording, his extra help, his patience, and his skill.

Lastly, Jacob would like to specially thank Natasha Desmarais and Alec Dippie who put up with his ridiculous ideas, and without whom, none of the rest of these productions would be even possible in the first place. Thanks!

*Yes, I know, everything’s fucking psychedelic these days. Even I’m at it now. I hang my head in shame.

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Upcoming Toad Gigs

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After a wee break and a couple of house shows, we actually have quite a lot of gigs coming up in the next little while, and that’s without even having thought about our New Year’s House Gig yet.

Obviously you are morally obliged to come to absolutely all of these shows and if you don’t attend each and every one I will secretly suspect that our friendship is based upon nothing more than a tissue of lies and pity. And if you can’t manage all of them then, erm, well one would be nice if you’re up for it. Please. They will be great shows, I promise.

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Passion Pusher EP launch shows:

This Saturday 8th Nov – Voxbox, Edinburgh
With Sean Armstrong (The Yawns)
Sunday 9th Nov – Flying Duck, Glasgow
With FROTH, Herbert Powell Youngstrr Joey

These shows may have been a little hastily arranged, but they mark two important events: our first formal release with Passion Pusher, and our first ever cassette release.  James calls his genre ‘dingus rock’ which I have to confess I rather like, and I suppose you could throw slacker and lo-fi in there too, but those terms get applied to fucking everything these days. Slop rock maybe, because it has that sort of feel to it where you’re not sure if he would perhaps rather be playing computer games rather than singing the songs, but the end results happen to turn out brilliantly anyway.

Jonnie Common Album Launch Digiflyer

Jonnie Common album launch shows:

Thursday 13th Nov – Downstairs, Aberdeen
Friday 14th Nov – Pilrig St. Paul’s, Edinburgh
Saturday 15th Nov – Glad Café, Glasgow

Jonnie’s album may be mired in manufacturing delays (sorry everyone) but we will have copies on CD in time for the album launches. Jonnie just recorded a session with Vic Galloway (including an absolutely awesome John Cooper Clarke cover) which you can listen to here. In Aberdeen he will be joined by Christ and Colin Austin, and the Edinburgh and Glasgow shows will be with Wolf and poet Ross Sutherland.

ToadGig2014 1 digiflyer

My fucking birthday!

Wednesday 19th Nov – Henry’s, Edinburgh
The Pictish Trail, Two White Cranes & Owen McAulay

Quite why I have volunteered to work on my own fucking birthday I don’t know, but when Roxy from Two White Cranes got in touch asking about gigs in Edinburgh on the 18th or 19th of November I thought why the fuck not, let’s have a laugh and see some great bands. And I haven’t seen Johnny Pictish play solo for bloody ages either, and he is, despite being head of Song, by Toad Records’ most deadly rival, fucking ace at music.

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Song, by Toad Christmas Parties:

Wednesday 3rd Dec – Total Refreshment Centre, London
Jonnie Common, Plastic Animals & Numbers Are Futile

Saturday 20th Dec – Henry’s, Edinburgh
Plastic Animals, Garden of Elks & erm, some other things.

We have two Christmas parties planned for this year, one down in London and one our traditional Edinburgh drunken train-wreck. London will be a bit of a label showcase, with a van-full of muppets heading down from the North to bring actual music and culture to our impoverished cousins in the South. Young Fathers won the Mercury, right? So England will be looking to Scotland for cultural leadership from now on, right?

In Edinburgh we shall have various friends doing weird and silly songs for a bit, and then some Proper Guitar Bands, and finally Irregular Owl Movements and Mrs. Toad DJ sets. God fucking help us.

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Toadcast #308 – Broken Records Toad Session v2

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

So this is the second Broken Records Toad Session. We actually packed a band with four guitarists and a full drum kit into our living room and decided that, fuck it, of course it would sound fine. And you know what, somewhat magically it does. Alright the drums could have done with more than one mic, and perhaps we didn’t have all that much control when we had to use one mic for two guitar amps, but they recordings sound really good if you ask me.

The reason we did a second session with Broken Records is because our first was recorded in the dark days of the internet when YouTube footage was published in 640 x 480 format and those videos now look like they were recorded back before steam trains. Ironically, and to my infinite frustration, having decided to do another session in order to upgrade the quality of what we did all those years ago, we actually managed to lose all the video for this one. Yes, all of it. We actually managed to lose an entire camera when we moved house, including the memory card with all my video on it, and Gavin’s hard drive, containing all his shots, had a meltdown too, so all that went as well.

I cannot express how much hair-pulling has taken place ransacking old drives for backup versions, nor how incredibly sorry I am for the band going to all that effort only for this to happen, but there’s nothing for it I’m afraid. It just isn’t there. So what you get instead is a series of photos by Nic Rue, the interview podcast and our session recordings. It’s all really, really good stuff, but not having the video still makes me smash my head against the fucking desk.

Full interview podcast:

Toadcast #308 – Broken Records Toad Session v2 by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Session tracks:

Podcast playlist:

01. Broken Records – Winterless Son (Toad Session) (00.21)
02. Sun Kil Moon – Pancho Villa (10.32)
03. Electrelane – The Partisan (15.41)
04. Broken Records – Weights & Pulleys (Toad Session) (23.52)
05. Stereolab – Super Electric (29.08)
06. The B-52s – Love Shack (34.26)
07. Broken Records – All Else Can Just Wait (Toad Session) (49.23)
08. Car Seat Headrest – Bodys (56.44)
09. Mark Eitzel – Proclaim Your Joy (1.03.55)
10. Broken Records – Wolves (Toad Session) (1.16.10)