A NEW Virgin of the Birds album is coming, folks, and it’s bloody great.
Fresh from his phenomenal contribution to the fourth Song, by Toad Split 12″ (with vastly, vastly different versions of a couple of the tunes from this new album, coincidentally), Jon Rooney is back with another Virgin of the Birds record.
I love working with John. His tunes are simple, but absolutely always catchy, and he is one of these lyricists who is constantly able to amuse and surprise you. You listen to his music and there’s nothing obviously all that clever going on to begin with, but then the more you listen the more subtle little moments make themselves known, and suddenly you’re hooked.
In the words of Monty Python’s Leonardo Da Vinci, “it just works, mate”.
Jon will be back in Scotland in December to play the Song, by Toad Christmas show, so keep an eye out for that, and a couple of other dates around then too.
Modern Studies are building up an impressive head of steam as their album release approaches on the 12th September.
New single Father is a Craftsman got a wee spin on Vic Galloway the other night, they’ve just had a cracking review in Mojo, and we eagerly await the delivery of the vinyl soon as well (pre-order one here). This what I think you are supposed to refer to as exciting times!
They have an album launch booked in too, at the Happiness Hotel, our warehouse recording space down in Leith on September 10th. It’s BYOB, and we’ll lay on some food, and you can get your tickets by clicking below. Exciti… oh, no, sorry, I already said that. But seriously, though, eh?
Considering we do things like the Toad Sessions, here at Song, by Toad Records we are generally not all that good at making videos for our releases. Fortunately this year we have been working with a bunch of bands with plenty of their own initiative, and actually have a nice wee record of our releases for the year in the form of a video playlist. I am embedding this playlist below so you can have a wee browse through our half-term report for 2016.
Modern Studies – Dive Bombing (above)
This one isn’t out until September (pre-order here), but the excitement is building already for an album of gorgeous, retro-tinged chamber pop – “compelling and graceful” – Gold Flake Paint
Viking Moses – Morning Compromise
The fourth in our Split 12″ series, this is the one and only album we’ll ever record in the living room of our new house in Leith, because Mrs. Toad has forbidden it from now on. This is therefore a one-off artefact of minimal acoustics and slow-paced, rumbling drone – “one of the best albums the label have put out to date” – Whisperin’ and Hollerin’.
David Thomas Broughton – Gulf (feat. Jordan Geiger)
A triple vinyl release, with three different labels, recorded while David was living in Pyongyang, North Korea. It sounds odd enough as it is, but this is a breathtaking behemoth of a record. Experimental, looped folk which drifts between confrontationally abstract and blissfully gorgeous. I’ve sold out now, but you can still get a copy from NoizeMaker Records in France – “a staggering achievement” – Americana UK.
Jonnie Common – More Oven Than Not
Kitchen Sync is an experimental, instrumental album of playful songs composed of found sounds from Jonnie’s kitchen and released on a set of fridge magnets because, er… well, because we could, I suppose. The magnets have sold out, but you can still buy it digitally here – “Sprinkled with interesting ideas and baked to perfection” – Shout4Music.
DTHPDL – The Future
DTHPDL’s debut EP The Future is tight as hell, somewhat synthy indie rock full of hummable tunes – “largely unclassifiable but highly enjoyable” – Is This Music?
I had a bit of a rant about the Brexit Referendum on Song, by Toad the other day, and frankly I have been in a perpetual see-saw between incredulous outrage and head-shaking bafflement for pretty much the entirety of this debate. If you can call it a debate. At least since I realised it was for real, anyway.
I was going to say ‘serious’, but that would be far too complimentary to the level of dialogue. But serious it is. Serious as cancer. And make no mistake, in the broader sense we are talking about a social cancer with the potential to become as dangerous as anything we’ve seen in Europe for two generations. Read the rest of this entry »
I haven’t said anything much about the EU referendum in the UK because I am really struggling to articulate my sense of baffled disbelief. I have never seen a political debate so immune to basic facts, so reliant on arguments which are patently idiotic, and so fuelled by resentment, bigotry, hatred and anger.
One of the things which absolutely beggars belief the most (and there is a lot of competition) in the whole EU debacle is that absolutely every single problem which is riling up the leavers is obviously going to be made significantly worse by that decision. Strain on the NHS? Crowded classrooms? Housing? Pensions? Low wages?
I mean, you have to literally be an idiot to think that the NHS will be improved or under less strain if we get out of the EU. It’s not something to soft-pedal. That opinion is simply dumb. Protection for pensions, investment in and access to education, employment… I know the EU isn’t very good on some of these things, particularly some of the trade agreements, TTIP, and so on, but it is patently idiotic to think that the UK wouldn’t be manifestly worse on these issues if it wasn’t for its participation in the EU.
Would you put protection of a living wage in the hands of Westminster or Brussels? EU countries almost all invest more in their national health services than we do – are you seriously suggesting that making decisions about shared healthcare or minimum wage or worker safety or access to education alongside Denmark and Germany instead of on our own will make them worse?
And the people who are going to be the most hurt and the most undermined by it all are the ones most keen to get out. It blows my fucking mind.
Something like 45% of our exports go the EU. Are we suggesting, with a straight face, that we can negotiate a better deal with that massive trading block from the outside, having snubbed them, than we can from the inside? Or that we can make better deals with the rest of the world as part of a significantly smaller economy? That simply gives us less to bargain with, that’s how this shit works – we would be deliberately giving ourselves a far, far weaker hand than before.
And if we do leave, and then all the problems which the leavers are reacting to become worse, where does all the boiling hatred and anger the leave campaign have stirred up end up going? Are we going to turn it inwards? Against whom? Foreigners? People who look a bit brown? The disabled? The LGBTQ community? The unemployed? Presumably so, as that’s who our leaders have been sniggeringly scapegoating as they have merrily caused all these problems in the first place, so we can clearly see who they will want to direct our anger towards when their free hand and surge of confidence is used to suddenly fuck us even harder than they were already doing before.
Not only is this hands down the stupidest political debate I have ever witnessed – I mean seriously, Geldof vs. Farage on the Thames? It’s like a bad fucking dream – but the fallout from riding, and in fact enthusiastically stoking, this wave of unbridled rage and hatred is going to have an awful effect on this country for years to come. We are already showing ourselves to be a nation of idiots, but we are turning, with what seems like terrifyingly little apprehension, into a nation of complete fucking arseholes.
I have genuinely been looking around myself during this whole embarrassing debacle wondering who the fuck I am actually sharing this shitty island with. I really feel like I must never have had any real idea what Britain actually is, or of who ‘we’ are as a people. It was shocking enough when we actually voted in favour of a party which had just demonstrated that it’s best tactic for reducing the welfare bill was to cut disability benefits and try and force the disabled and long term sick back into work. We actually, really, truly voted for that.
If we’re not careful, the UK is going to end up some shitty fucking offshore tax haven with an increasingly impoverished population working in Sports Direct slavery conditions, sitting in the rain clinging to our flat pints of Carling, sneering at ‘Socialist Europe’ being overrun by Muslims and congratulating ourselves on being better than everyone else, while the whole rest of the continent looks on in confused disbelief and barely suppressed amusement and continues sipping their espressos in the sun.
Fuck this shit, I am getting my Canadian passport renewed sharpish.
Chump are another one of the David Cameron’s Eton Mess alumni, that awesome compilation of under the radar Scottish guitar bands we released towards the end of last year.
Chump were a bit of a left-field inclusion on that record, in the sense that I didn’t really know anything about them, apart from the one gorgeous song on their Bandcamp page (which was the song that appeared on the record). They were a recommendation from a friend, Tara was really nice about being on the album, and I’ve been waiting for new material ever since – curious to find out more about the band, beyond speculative extrapolation from one single song.
And now, here we have it, and it definitely is different. Tracks like Out Of It are still pretty reminiscent of the downbeat, morose slacker vibe of Sleeping In, but there are some loud, nasty guitars here and the whole thing gets pretty bloody big in places. There are even traces of Sharon Van Etten here and there if you ask me, not that I would really compare the two artists overall sound.
There’s even a sort of glam theatricality at times, albeit only here and there, which gives the whole thing a great dynamic. It’s available on pink cassette on their Bandcamp page, so go have a listen and grab one there. I really do need to see this band live now.
This hasn’t been the most closely guarded of secrets, but it’s probably time to make it official: we’ll be releasing the Modern Studies album in September. And it’s fucking awesome.
We have the first single from the album coming out on Monday. It will be premiering on the excellent Gold Flake Paint, so I won’t ruin the surprise by posting it here, but to paraphrase Frank N. Furter, it’s nice to build a little sense of antici … pation.
I’ve known most of these guys for ages actually, and people who know the label may well recognise a couple of familiar faces up there in that picture, namely Rob St. John and Pete Harvey (The Leg). Well Joe on the left runs the Glad Café in Glasgow and is in a number of bands you might well know too, and Emily was actually one of the very first local acts I ever saw in Edinburgh when I first started writing the blog.
I went down to Out of the Bedroom, one of our most enduring open mic nights, with a friend who was running it at the time, and I saw Emily play solo and loved it. Her performance was one of the key things in making me realise that although the bigger bands never seemed to come through Edinburgh, there was plenty of talent in the underground scene if you took the time to look. Funnily enough Rob was actually another of the people who I first heard of around the same time and also had a big influence in drawing me into the local scene. But yep, I’ve known Emily for ages but this is my first chance to actually work with her, which is awesome.
The band themselves describe their music as Arts und Krafts Werk, which adds to Song, by Toad Records’ proud tradition of making up the silliest genres in the entire music industry. More sensibly, they also use the term chamber pop, which I suppose might make more sense to you. It’s lush, gorgeous acoustic pop music, short and sweet and unusually for us, an album which feels like it absolutely packed with singles. The release date is September the 12th, and you can pre-order from our Bandcamp page. And keep an eye out for that single on Monday. It’s a belter.
I was raised in Austria, and Franz Klammer is a folk hero out there, and one of the most legendary Austrian ski-racers of all time, so the name of this Edinburgh band is actually rather dear to my heart although admittedly I don’t entirely understand the ‘Hans’ pun.
Pointless digressions aside, there’s a lot of really interesting music knocking around Edinburgh at the moment, but it is really rather under the radar, and this band are one of the best of that rather scattered bunch. They have a couple of things up on Bandcamp, and it veers between sweepingly cinematic, really infectious indie rock songs and more ambient, experimental soundscapes.
When they decide to right a straight up tune they really do a fine job of it, which is slightly surprising given how the more dreamy, thrumming beats dominate the EPs they’ve released so far. It’s great though, you get all these swirling atmospherics, and then suddenly a proper riff breaks out, almost out of nowhere.
It’s all pay-what-you-like too, so have a wee explore.
Our release of David Thomas Broughton’s epic masterpiece Crippling Lack moves to Volume 2 this month, which comes out on French label NoizeMaker Records. We’ve sold our entire allocation now, so European fans should order from the NoizeMaker Bandcamp page, whereas North Americans should head to Paper Garden Records, who are Brooklyn-based.
Crippling Lack Vol.2 introduces itself with a new single, the flighty and gorgeous River, which features gorgeous work by Sam Amidon* on fiddle:
After this gorgeous tune Volume 2, the heart of the album in many ways, is subsequently dominated by two sprawling epics which are both around a quarter of an hour long. Concrete Statement and I Close My Eyes are full of gorgeous moments, but they decompose almost entirely over their course, leaving only the barest skeleton of their structure left.
These threads will be gathered up and rewoven later, but you’re in the heart of the storm with this record and the tension at the heart of I Close My Eyes between the two most hypnotically-repeated lyrics seems to embody the dichotomy at the core of the whole album. As “I close my eyes and it all goes wrong” slowly cedes ground to “I know I have potential” you can almost hear the emotional trajectory of the album finally arresting its downward spiral and locating the shred of succour and self-belief it needs to drag itself back from the abyss.
David gave an interview with The List recently: “The record is about discomfort and trying to reconcile conflicting elements of the human condition to eventually come to terms with the awkwardness of life.”
Well this is the bit where stuff gets uncomfortable. Don’t worry though, Volume 3 is on the way and it will start to make sense of all of this. Promise.
And in the meantime, here’s a video for Dots, which is on Volume 1:
*Just as an aside, I remember one of our first ever Toad Sessions was recorded with Sam Amidon back in 2009 and one of the things we talked about was his tour with David and how much he loved his music. I was a recent convert as well, and it was a nice wee chat, but I have to confess I never dreamed for a second at that point that we would end up all collaborating on an album release in seven years’ time. Sigh, nostalgia, how time flies, you never know where life will take you, etc etc etc…
I’ve been making mixtapes a lot recently. We have a tape player in the kitchen – basically just an act of nostalgia, because my parents always had one in the kitchen too – and I’ve really embraced the trend of small bands and labels doing a lot of tape releases these days. Hell, we do it ourselves too. It’s just nice. It’s nice to have ‘a thing’ to represent your release, even if it is small scale and even if it is only a run of 100.
This has meant, inevitably, that I’ve been digging out old mixtapes and making some new ones. I have to confess that I cheat, these days, however. I make a playlist on Spotify and just plug the computer into the input for the tape machine and do it that way. I know, I know, judge me all you like, that’s just my compromise with the 21st Century, and I’m not proud but I have decided to accept it.
I’ve been making a lot of new mixes of course, as you would, but given its ‘all the music that ever existed in the universe ever’ model, Spotify is actually really good for tracking down the fragments of half-remembered mixtapes from your past and attempting to cobble them back together.
When we lived in Singapore my parents’ vinyl collection warped and went mouldy in the heat and humidity. It was unrecoverable, tragically, but they managed to make some great mixtapes out of the remains before it was all chucked out. Early Americana Vol.1 is something of a legendary standout from that period. My Dad is Canadian so he was raised in a rather different musical environment to my Mum and certainly to myself. This tape was ninety minutes of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Bob Seger (no sniggering, I love some of his tunes), Jackson Browne, The Band, The Holy Modal Rounders, The Eagles (oh fuck off, The Last Resort is a cracking song), and it was fucking ace.
There was also a far less heralded Early Americana Vol.2 of course, but it just didn’t quite click in that way that first one did – in the elusive way in which great mixtapes do – but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great songs on there, so I sat down on Spotify to try and compile a rough sort of Best Of from the two tapes.
Some of the individual tracks themselves have continued to play a huge role in all our lives, so they didn’t really need much lobbying to end up on the final mix. Walking Song by Kate and Anna McGarrigle still brings an actual, literal tear to my eye every time I hear it, and All the Tired Horses by Dylan became something of an alternative nursery rhyme in our house, if I am remembering things accurately, which at this sort of distance I might not be.
It’s not all ‘the classics’ of course – in fact that’s pretty much the entire point of a good mixtape. In going back through these songs I happened across some forgotten gems. With some, like Bob Seger and James Taylor I found myself remembering how much I actually like some of their stuff, despite the unavoidable whiff of soft rock about them and the absolute gold medal levels of unfashionableness.
Slightly different was Kris Kristofferson. I’ve always fondly remembered Me and Bobby McGee from that tape. For a child I think the lyrics have something immediately appealing about them, and lines like “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” always stuck in my head. I had entirely forgotten that there was another Kris Kristofferson song on one of the tapes though, and it turns out that its relevance to my current line of work is absolutely uncanny. It’s called To Beat the Devil, and I’ve embedded it at the top of the page.
I know every generation thinks they are the first to face the weight of all the world’s problems, and there are no shortage of articles by old duffers lecturing modern musicians about the fact that trying to live off being a full-time musician has always been a losing proposition, but it’s sort of heartening to hear someone from an entirely different era and genre singing about the exact same nagging internal debates about futility, reward, and the sisyphean nature of full-time music.
There’s not much actual ‘song’ in the song, either. It’s more a rambling monologue, but there are two little glimpses, and it feels just like a combination of me at my most cynical, most resigned, and yet also most determined. With lines like “back when failure had me locked out on the wrong side of the door” he even acknowledges that this is sung from the point of view of a relatively successful musician. And he’s still fucking broke. I heard it again after all these years and all I could think was ‘holy fuck, this is like an anthem for my whole fucking label’!
This is what the passenger seat of my car looks like these days.