Song, by Toad

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Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing

mph Given the life- and mobility-threatening car wreck which preceded the recording of this album  it is very, very hard to listen to it without allowing those facts to colour your impressions of the music. I’m not sure whether that should be the case, however, given a lot of it was written and, I believe, recorded before the accident.

Also, I’ve interviewed Hinson before, albeit quite a long time ago, and he fairly spat with contempt when I asked about the oft-repeated trope that his colourful past had found expression in some of his rather nippy songwriting. He may or may not have literally waved his hand dismissively and said “yeah, that’s all bullshit” but it wasn’t far away.

So when I see every review of this album talking about the obviously dramatic back-story I find myself wondering how Hinson himself would feel about the assumed consensus that this represents him re-evaluating his life and starting again after such a horrific experience. Not to say that it’s bollocks, of course, but he is a relatively guarded, complex character, and I have never really had the impression that the version of himself we get from the press releases tells much of the story.

What this does feel like is a rather more bare and unguarded record. Despite some pretty blunt lyrics in the past, there has often been deceptively rich production on Micah P. Hinson’s albums, bringing at least some sense of Nick Cave’s style of character creation to what seemed otherwise so be fairly mercilessly personal songs. Here, however, instead of the lush, orchestral strings, what you get is the rather more sparse sound of a string quartet, and when the guitar gets angry it is just one solitary, snarling guitar rather than a furious band battering away.

So in the end what you get is a very familiar sound in terms of the aesthetic sensibilities – Hinson never changed all that radically from record to record anyway – but something which has a very different emotional feel to previous work nevertheless. Songs like The Life, Living, Death and Dying of a Certain and Peculiar L. J. Nichols might be an affectionate song about a departed grandparent, but the specific lyrics don’t exactly paint a sentimental picture. It’s a similar story with There’s Only One Name and maybe even I Ain’t Movin’ – songs which sound a little saccharine at times, and could be much more so, but nevertheless have a rather harder edge to the lyrics than you would imagine. It doesn’t sound like deliberate cuteness either, more that the barbs are there in real life, and hence they are there in the songs too. It’s not artifice, just the way things are.

Perhaps the inevitable conclusion of all these vignettes might be the combination of God is Good and The Quill towards the end of the album. God is Good is basically most kids’ first question about religion - If God is so amazing then why do bad things happen? – but instead of naff philosophy it comes across more as a weary lament. It sounds like the bitter recital of someone who is close to the end of their tether and as bewildered as they are exhausted by the cards that life seems to deal them.

The salvation, of course, is in the music, isn’t it. That’s how the story goes. Person has a shite time and then writes an album about it to help them deal with life. But when the next tune starts with the lyrics “The quill holds the hand still/ the paper draws nothing from this lonely heart” you get the impression that isn’t really what is being said. Rather than releasing the album as catharsis, as a way of dealing with a horrible period of life, I find myself with the impression of someone who makes music because that’s what they do. They’ve found something they’re good at, and whether things are good or bad, that is the lens through which they often view their life.

But when the shit really hits the fan, when things are overwhelming and threaten to crush you altogether it doesn’t seem that music, or the act of writing, are much help. And yet this album seems to exist despite that fact, almost as if the catharsis and act of defiance against a needlessly vindictive universe is not the content of the songs, but the fact that they actually exist at all. I have no idea if this is at all true, of course, but it is nevertheless the feeling I get from Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing.

And it is a beautiful, beautiful record. Buy one here.

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Andrew R. Burns

In keeping with the 2014 rule that everything musically good in Scotland seems to be coming from Livingstone at the moment (yes, I know, don’t ask), here is some excellent new stuff from Andrew R. Burns.

I would normally have said “like alansmithee before him, he seems to be very much enamoured with Mac DeMarco” but actually alansmithee’s last release seems to move out of that territory a little, so maybe it’s not the best way to start this after all. Mr. Burns, on the other hand, very much seems like he draws heavily on DeMarco, but that’s no bad thing.

As I have just discovered with alansmithee, of course, it’s a little risky to try and draw out people’s influences too definitely when they only have a few songs available to inform your guesses, so let’s go with a quick description of the music instead: gorgeously wobbly guitars, laid back pop songs and the sort of vocal delivery you imagine being delivered by a skinny fellow in a suit and shirt with an open collar, looking a little dishevelled after a few too many nights in the depths of a casino, and who consequently has no real idea what time of day it is outside anymore.

Andrew himself described the songs as “essentially sloppy guitar based dream-pop” when he got in touch, and that’s true enough, but it’s nice, and there aren’t too many people doing this kind of thing well around here at the moment. I look forward to hearing more.

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Record Store Day 2014 at Vox Box

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Saturday 19th April – St. Stephen’s St., Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

Of all the Record Store Day stuff I think the Vox Box events are consistently my favourite. Instead of endless grasping after exclusive releases, these days seems to be a bit more about music fans and music makers hanging out together and having a good time. Records get sold as a by-product, rather than a direct goal (although I am sure Darren wouldn’t put it in quite such idealistic terms!), and there’s none of the queueing or frenetic charging around associated with most other places.

Let’s be honest, if you’re a real record collector then you will be quite prepared to wait it out anyway. RSD teases a certain level of hysteria into people if it can, but it’s still nice to go to a good shop and have a look at the few things they have chosen to stock, rather than fighting it out with a million other people for the list of things you definitely NEED.

That is the point of shops, after all. If you’re adamant you need a certain thing, you’re better off with the internet. If you want someone who gives a fuck about music to have a look at the huge list of limited edition stuff being put out and to pick out their own favourites, then you might just get some pleasant surprises.

I’ve never gone into Vox Box and got what I came for. Mind you, I’ve never come away less than delighted with the stuff I ended up buying either.

Anyhow, here is the press release about what’s happening tomorrow. It will be fun, I promise:

Featuring loads of exclusive releases and lots of live music with a few surprises too: Simon Goddard & Ian Rankin Q&A, Tuff Love, Law, Stanley Odd, Book Group, The Pictish Trail and more!

The shop will open at 9.30am and we’ll be stocked up with as many of the exclusive RSD releases as we can get our hands on, as well as our usual selection of other new and used records.

Then at 12 noon at a venue very close by we have Simon Goddard in a Q&A with Ian Rankin about Simon’s new book, Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records which is released that day - 

From 12.30 till 6pm we’re bringing you some of the very best bands from Edinburgh and beyond: 
STANLEY ODD
TUFF LOVE
LAW
BOOK GROUP
THE PICTISH TRAIL
BROKEN RECORDS
YUSUF AZAK

This is all free entry and also open to children (accompanied by an adult).

Last year was a fantastic celebration and we are going bigger and better this year as we approach our 3rd anniversary in the music business.  We’ll have as many of the exclusive RSD releases as we can, but it’s not just about the exclusive records!

We are celebrating what we love. A wide selection of music, the vinyl format, the grass roots record industry, the local bands and record labels as well as our fantastic regular customers that give our shop such a positive feel and of course our wonderful street.

SIMON GODDARD & IAN RANKIN Q&A
Simon’s new book is released by Random House on Record Store Day. Come down and hear them discuss all things Postcard, arguably Scotland’s favourite and the original Independent record label. (featuring Josef K and Orange Juice. Pick up a book and have it signed by the author. These copies come with Ltd Edition free poster.
http://bit.ly/OWythA

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Farewell, Bastard Mountain

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On 12th May we will be releasing the gorgeous Farewell, Bastard Mountain on 12″ vinyl and download. You can pre-order your copy here, if you’re feeling nice and helpful (this is always a big help for us in terms of cash-flow, in case you’re swithering).

Bastard Mountain are: Pete Harvey & Neil Pennycook from Meursault, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow & the Workshop, Rob St. John from eagleowl & Meursault, Rory Sutherland from Broken Records & Reuben Taylor formerly of James Yorkston & the Athletes.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was recorded in October 2012. Jill, Neil and Rob each brought three songs, one to sing themselves, and one each for the other two vocalists to sing. Over the course of a week the group wrote and recorded music to go with these new versions, the result of which is Farewell, Bastard Mountain.

It’s a record full of drones and textures, but not as dark and oppressive as that might lead you to imagine. Instead, the semi-improvised nature, live recording and playfulness of the album gives the record a real lightness and sense of unity, to the extent that the vinyl has been pressed without any track breaks at all, as it all just fits seamlessly together as a single piece of work.

This approach to collaborative music was inspired by the Cold Seeds album we did several years ago with Animal Magic Tricks, King Creosote and Meursault. That album was more ad-hoc, there was no real plan for how it was going to happen, the music was almost entirely improvised and it all sort of fell together by happy accident.

This time around we wanted to reproduce that level of experimentation and excitement, but once the musicians got together it turned into something more like a conventional band. They may not have had much time, but they still rehearsed everything a little and then recorded the bulk of each song live, playing off each other to mitigate the uncertainty of trying to record a song they’d only learned a couple of hours ago.

The results are absolutely beautiful, with new takes on older songs as well as new and previously unheard tunes by all three main songwriters, as well as a first ever officially released song by Rory Sutherland which we all liked so much we’re pushing him to write a solo record as soon as possible.

Tracks written by:
Meadow Ghosts & Palisade: Rob St. John, Drone Armatrading: Rory Sutherland, The Mill, New Boy & Pissing on Bonfires: Neil Pennycook, Swam Like Sharks, Old Habits & My Crime: Jill O’Sullivan, Something On Your Mind: Dino Valenti.

Album launch shows:
London – Shhh! Festival, Sat. 24th May. Tickets here.
Edinburgh – Queen’s Hall, Thu. 29th May. Tickets here.

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Toadcast #295 – The Passed-outcast

tag I will preempt your question: what the fuck is this?

Well, on the Sunday of SXSW this year, the Sunday of our traditional and traditonally chaotic SXSW podcast, I went off to record this podcast instead, with the awesome Draught Punk gents. WHAT? Ignoring our awesome annual podcast in order to hang out with new friends? Isn’t that what happens just before massive comeuppance in every high school movie in history? Have you learned NOTHING from shallow, saccharine, moralistic cinema?

Well, as every cheating boyfriend ever would say, wait, I can explain. I didn’t realise at the time that it would be an either/or situation, but after discussing excellent beer over the course of six or seven pints during the afternoon I got back to Peej’s house and realised I was far, far too drunk to try and record anything at all. So I drank more margaritas instead, because of course I did.

Fortunately Peej stepped in to rescue matters and recorded this for us. Bless him. Although one or two bits had to be beeped out. Mostly me.

Toadcast #295 – The Passed-outcast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. Willie Nelson – I Gotta Get Drunk (00.26)
02. Sparks – Reinforcements (08.17)
03. Sweet Baboo – Let’s Go Swimming Wild (04.55)
04. Withered Hand – King of Hollywood (20.09)
05. EMA – California (23.59)
06. Fat White Family – Touch the Leather (31.17)
07. Cate Le Bon – No God (35.52)
08. Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie (41.47)
09. Eagulls – Possessed (47.37)
10. Big Tits – You Made Me Look (52.15)
11. Meursault – I’ll Believe in Anything (55.34)

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Record Store Day 2014 and the Vinyl Revival

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Record Store Day 2014 is next Saturday, as you probably know, and although we don’t have a formal RSD release the new Virgin of the Birds album is out pretty much now and if you want to buy something Toadly then that’s the one.

It’s understated, and Virgin of the Birds stuff often takes a while to settle in, so I don’t expect it to be an immediate hit but nevertheless this is an absolutely excellent album – one which on first listen immediately had me going back to the start to listen again, which is a rather fantastic thing to feel when you release records for a living.

As well as the first single Every Revelry (see video below) there are exclusive plays of two album tracks Nine Sisters (which contains the best saxophone solo of all time) and The Serpent Plume on this excellent interview Jon did with Dani Charlton from Amazing Radio.

You can buy the album from Monorail or LoveMusic in Glasgow, or from Vox Box Music or Coda here in Edinburgh, or if you are more electronically inclined, from our website here.

It’s only out on 12″ vinyl (or digitally of course), not CD, and I suppose it looks a lot like we’re becoming a vinyl-only label these days, which in a sense we are, but it’s not a deliberate or strategic decision actually, just circumstances.

We can really only afford to release most album in one format, either CD or vinyl, not both, as we simply can’t afford the extra manufacturing costs. With albums like this one and Adam Stafford’s which are both co-released with North American labels, we pretty much have to press vinyl as apparently North American customers have all but given up on CD. Or at least that’s what I am told by my US-based hipster spies.

Now, I love vinyl, don’t get me wrong, and I was at the recording of Vic Galloway‘s vinyl special for BBC Radio Scotland earlier this week where they talked about many of the things I love about the format: the tactility, the artwork, the ritual of playing records, the physical embodiment of your love of music, and all the other stuff.

What didn’t come up, though, were any of my reservations about either the format itself or the much-vaunted revival it has experienced of late.

Revived it may be, but vinyl still only accounts for a tiny number of album sales. A huge percentage increase in sales is easy to achieve when the numbers are low, even if the absolute number of sales is still small.

For larger labels I strongly suspect the future is still in the effective monetisation of streaming and on-demand services, rather than vinyl sales, and for smaller ones vinyl is expensive to press and simply doesn’t generate very much profit on short runs. I love the stuff, as I said, but I am not sure it’s quite the industry saviour which the press paints it as.

Headlines need to be written simplistically and sensationally of course, so they are mostly bollocks when it comes to sensitive issues like this, but the whole ‘vinyl revival’ line reminds me of the mindless and utterly wrong statement that ‘all the money is in touring, nowadays’, which was repeated so often that it became common knowledge, despite being complete balls.

The relatively recent revival of interest in building vinyl collections is a good thing, of course, but perhaps more because it points towards an admittedly small but nevertheless important group of people for whom a strong relationship with music is still a core part of their personality, rather than implying any specific importance of vinyl itself. Some people collect plants, some buy every cooking implement going and create incredible meals, and others want to build a large, beautiful collection of the music that they love, and to surround themselves with that collection. It’s nice.

Is vinyl particularly central to that, as a format, though? I don’t know. It’s bolder and more visual than other formats, so I guess it’s the most obvious candidate. But (whisper it) a good CD gives you better audio fidelity, and I have seen some truly lovely CD and cassette releases too.

There is a definite possibility that a significant aspect of the vinyl revival is simply a passing fashion, no more significant than the retro-fetishism of Super 8 film, Instagram, drinking from Mason Jars, and an awful lot of hipster clothing fashions. It could easily, in other words, go away as fast as it has seemed to appear.

I don’t like to think like this, because I love my record collection, and I love making albums as well. But I do sometimes think the vinyl revival needs to be approached a little more critically than it is, rather than people pointing at 200% rises in sales from tiny to very small numbers, and endlessly parroting the dubious claim to superior audio fidelity.

I still welcome it, of course, and I will inevitably spend far more money than I can actually afford on RSD, but I still think a healthy degree of scepticism is needed, because these simplistic narratives are almost never right, and in the music industry at the moment we need to keep open minds about the future rather than relying on jumping from one version of ‘The Answer!’ to the next.

You should totally still buy the Virgin of the Birds album though. Seriously.

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Song, by Toad Records Sampler 2014

a1625803646_2 Yep, it’s that time of year again – the time when I try and parlay your loyalty and support into something altogether more cynical and tawdry: email addresses for our mailing list.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Actually, you do get plenty in return for either your email address or modest donation: ten fantastic songs from our upcoming releases in 2014.

This includes an exclusive new track from Sparrow and the Workshop, a sneak peak at our next Split 12″ and a song from a fantastic collaborative album between David Thomas Broughton and the Juice vocal ensemble, due out in September.

So happy, erm, I don’t know, is it Easter soon? Or Chinese New Year? Well happy them, then, and don’t say we never give you anything.

Song, by Toad Records Sampler on Bandcamp.

2. Ilona, You Should Still be My Vampire Attendant by Virgin of the Birds (4.39) 
A slick pop classic from Abandoned Love, part of our Five Years/Five Records anniversary box set. We’re also releasing the next album by the band, who are from Seattle: Winter Seeds, out on 7th April.

3. Photosynth (Split 12” version) by Jonnie Common (4.58) 
This is an off-cut from our third Split 12” album, which we recorded up at the Insider Festival in June last year. The others on the split are David Thomas Broughton, Sparrow and the Workshop and Siobhan Wilson.,

4. Sex Acts by Animal Magic Tricks (3.10) 
Another from our Five Years/ Five Records box set, this is from Brighton-based Animal Magic Tricks debut album Sex Acts. Frances’ last appearance on one of our releases was with Meursault and King Creosote on the Cold Seeds album from 2009.

6. Yorkshire Fog by David Thomas Broughton & Juice (3.54) 
Vocal ensemble Juice and experimental pop maverick David Thomas Broughton will be releasing a collaborative album with us in September 2014.

7. Ghosts by Plastic Animals (4.47) 
After their brilliant contribution to our second Split 12”, released last year alongside the Beer vs. Records project, we are currently working on Plastic Animals’ debut album. This song will be on there, but this version is an old one.

8. Dear God by Siobhan Wilson (5.08) 
Another gorgeous song from the Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, this is also from the third Split 12” recorded up at the Insider Festival.

10. Dirt & the Roots (2014 version) by Meursault (3.24) 
Another tune from the Five Years/ Five Records box set, this is from Kissing on Bonfires by Meursault which is a complete, start-to-finish re-record of their classic 2008 debut album.

11. In Heaven by Naked (4.29) 
The b-side to the Edinburgh band’s debut single Lie Follows Lie, which we released last year, with their follow-up effort Tell Me What is Not Yet Said due for release in May.

12. Switches by The Leg (3.27) 
From The Leg’s gloriously abrasive 2008(ish) album What Happened to the Shrunken Tina Turner, this is as gentle a song as there probably is on the album. Another from our box set.

14. One Brush by Sparrow & the Workshop (2.22)
And finally, we finished with an exclusive new tune by Sparrow and the Workshop. This was an off-cut from their brilliant album Murderopolis, which we released last year. The band are also on the Insider Split 12”, out in June.

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Hidden Door Festival

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From this weekend the Hidden Door Festival will be running in Edinburgh. Having grown from the Bowery several years ago, they’ll now be taking over the sweep of arches at the East end of Market Street.

If you know Edinburgh you may still have no idea these arches are even there, but they look amazing. And the plans for the various nights look equally excellent.

In Toadly terms, we have Adam Stafford and Plastic Animals joining Rory Sutherland and Broken Records tomorrow night, and then next week on Friday 4th April Meursault are playing with Miaoux Miaoux, Conquering Animal Sound and Law. There’s also a Lost Map showcase on Monday 31st March, as well as a Songs in the Key of Fife evening this Sunday 30th, hosted by our charming but odd friend Vic Galloway, and based around his recent book.

The plan is to combine multiple art forms across the various spaces, with music, installations, theatre, dance and visual arts all overlapping and creating something a bit broader and more interesting than the usual, rather segregated Edinburgh habits.

So get ye along. I’ll be back soon, and then the usual stream of bollocks on this blog will resume. Sorry, but it had to happen sometime.

And apologies again to the Hidden Door folks, and Jamie Sutherland. I was supposed to be helping them out with this, and then Meursault’s US tour became more and more all-consuming and I had to drop out at rather late notice. So I’m sorry lads, and I hope it goes really well.

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Toadcast #294 – The Tourcast

tag Umm, perhaps not as slick as the usual ultra-professional fare you’ve no doubt come to expect here at Song, by Toad, this podcast is nevertheless at least not quite as howlingly mental as our usual SXSW podcast.

Instead of recording the usual podcast, drunkenness compelled me to put it off, so we ended up recording one in the tour van a week later. I say ‘tour van’ but what I really mean is 30ft RV, which is what we’re actually travelling around in instead.

Late confirmations meant we couldn’t confirm the trip until the last minute, so booking hotels would have been an expensive nightmare, and a regular van was looking to be twice the price, so we, er, ended up with this. Fuckwit caper of a lifetime!

Toadcast #294 – The Tourcast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. Meursault – Was ist Das? (00.24)
02. Gary Numan – Are Friends Electric (19.04)
03. Fat White Family – Wet Hot Beef Pt.1 (24.25)
04. Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle – Gustavo (37.41)
05. Nirvana – Love Buzz (Live at the Milestone, Charlotte) (49.11)
06. Adam Faucett – Melanie (58.08)
07. Kevin Ayers – Religious Experience (Singing a Song in the Morning) (1.07.24)
08. Calexico – Black Heart (1.12.02)
09. Little Feat – Long Distance Love (1.23.28)
10. Viking Moses – Little Arms (1.32.40)

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New Album from Virgin of the Birds on Song, by Toad Records

Every Revelry is the first single from the forthcoming debut album by Virgin of the Birds, called Winter Seeds. It’s out in a couple of weeks on vinyl and you can pre-order one here. You can download the mp3 from the Soundcloud player at the bottom of the page.

This is a perfect example of the kind of laid-back, literate guitar pop in which the band specialise. I was actually drawn in by the lyrics initially, only to realise a little later that I could hum every single tune as well.

When Jon Rooney started Virgin of the Birds he had just moved to a new city and didn’t really want to throw himself back into the dive bar circuit of relentless, thankless gigging.

So he set about doing things a little differently, by recording a series of EPs himself, which he released for free on Bandcamp between 2009 and 2012. Whether this proved a more effective strategy in the long run… well, who cares really, because this is how he came to our notice here at Song, by Toad.

Ilona, You Should Still be My Vampire Attendant was on the first of those EPs and named in my Festive Fifty for 2009, and every EP earned a glowing review on the blog. Jon even happened to visit Edinburgh that Winter and ended up playing the first of our now-traditional New Year’s House Gigs.

At the time I thought those EPs were too good simply to be given away for free on the internet, and late last year I decided to do something about that: compiling my favourite songs from the EP onto one of the five 12” vinyl we released as part of ourFive Years/Five Records anniversary box set.

Jon will be over in the UK in May to tour in support of the album.

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