Song, by Toad

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BRAAINZZ – Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper

braainzz I’ve written about BRAAINZZ before. They’re weird as fuck, but they happen to be a really rather good band once you get used to all the vocoders and time-warping and general love for making you wonder if you’re listening to music that was made on purpose or entirely by accident when someone had Logic open and spilled a can of fizzy juice all over their computer.

It’s hard to argue with an album where Mrs. God plays cello though, if we’re being honest.

One of the things I like most about them is that in amongst all this perverse, messy nonsense, moments of clarity occasionally appear, just to remind you that this lot do genuinely know what they are doing, and all the weird elements of the music are as considered as any more conventional sounding tunes you’ll hear.

There’s a cracking Walkmen cover on here, for example, and while it doesn’t sound all that much like The Walkmen themselves, it’s actually pretty straight-edged by the standards of this lot. Needless to say, though, they descend into incomprehensible mess pretty much immediately afterwards, just in case you were in danger of getting the wrong idea.

Amazingly, with all these noises which border on the just plain silly, they seem to have a real flair for melancholy music. And actually it works pretty well. Even with the vocoder and the squeaks and the beeps.

Shroom folk. Wyrd pop. That’s what they call themselves. And, as they say, it sounds like nonsense but makes total sense once you listen to the music. I have no idea how or why this lot are good, but they really are.

Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper is their third EP and can be downloaded for free here.

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Allison Crutchfield – Lean In To It

lean You’ve heard me talk an awful lot about Kingfisher Bluez in the past- they released Adam Stafford’s album in North America, and released a Rick Redbeard single quite recently as well.

In fact I reckon if I were living in Vancouver (which a large part of me would love to) then Tim and I might well find ourselves squabbling over the same bands a lot of the time. They have a mind-bogglingly prolific release rate as well, and every time I go to their Bandcamp page it seems there are a small handful of new releases I’ve never heard of before.

One of the latest to go up there is this – a pre-order for an absolutely fantastic-sounding 12″ by Allison Crutchfield which will be available sometime just before Christmas. In other words, soon.

It’s lo-fi pop music, basically, with keyboards and drum machines fleshing out the sound, but most songs relying on relatively simple melodies not unlike the style of Casiotone For the Painfully Alone.

There’s plenty of gravel and distortion in the backing, but for all Allison’s voice is relatively low in the mix, it’s still clear and strong, which means this doesn’t just sound like yet another deliberately self-sabotaging lo-fi pop artist hiding behind their own effects – there is plenty of fuzz, but it is used with care and to really, really good effect.

I love a duet, and standout tunes for me would be the duet with Sam Cook-Parrott on Lupe, a tune he co-wrote, as well as You and Supermoon – all lovely singing, with a really nice sense of strength, brought by the insistent pace of the artificial percussion. It just rattles along, even through the songs which themselves seem to waver a little more.

It may have a slight air of vulnerability to it, but that’s really just her voice, and even so it’s pretty minimal, but these are (generally short) sharp, self-contained pop songs and this is an excellent record.

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I Have Been Reading Books Again

books Yep, that headline is absolutely as tragic as it sounds. What? Books? Like the internet, but analogue? You’re such a fucking hipster, dude.

I know. We all read books and we all love books. Well, pretty much everyone reading this site, anyway, I would imagine. And I am the same. I fucking love books.  But for some reason I lost the habit about five years ago – maybe even more – and I have been struggling to get it back.

It sounds like an incredibly banal lament, but for someone who absolutely loves books and reading, I just stopped dead for some reason. Back in London I used to read all the time. I was commuting to work, and for all it wasn’t a long commute and I didn’t exactly plough through the pages on the train, I was still getting into books by doing so, and it meant I was way more likely to read at home as well.

Then when I moved up here I was rather taken aback by Mrs. Toad’s disconcertingly early bed-time. I’m a natural night owl, so her insistence on going to bed at 10pm just felt weird, but it did mean I continued to hoover up books just as much as ever before. And then, probably some time in 2008 or so, I just stopped. Read the rest of this entry »

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Toadcast #307 – The Joecast

tag Yep, not gin anymore, these days I drink coffee with my podcasts. Nostalgia really isn’t what it used to be, is it. I remember when I was wild, rude, inebriated, etc. etc…

Mind you, seeing as I am driving through to Glasgow once I finish this to engage in sensitive negotiations with a ‘hot new band’*, I think half a bottle of gin might not be the wisest preparation, even by my rather slapdash standards. So it’s a pot of coffee and some fine new music, and you know, I may even keep the nonsensical rambling to a minimum if I can manage it.

It’s going to be weird driving through to Glasgow actually, because I will be taking a friend’s car instead of Bette, because it has a working tape player while Bette’s is currently out of action. It’s still a Volvo estate, but just a normal one, and I have to confess it feels kind of weird that no-one does their ‘what the fuck is that?’ stare when I drive past. I’ve kind of grown used to that over the last year or two with the old girl.

Toadcast #307 – The Joecast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #307 – The Joecast

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01. Becky Becky – I Remember, I Remember… (00.16)
02. Huerequeque – Homöopaatiline Epopöa (05.32)
03. Sex Hands – On a Break (15.47)
04. Jeff Flashinski – Disillusion (21.31)
05. eagleowl – Clean the Night (24.25)
06. Furs – An Eye on the Vicious (29.45)
07. Max Garcia Conover – Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY (33.45)
08. Waiters – What For Art Thou (43.52)
09. Sea Pinks – Dream Happening (47.12)
10. Maston – Gold Leaf (52.45)
11. Water World – Cream Soda (56.44)
12. Frankie Cosmos – Owen (1.00.23)

*Disclaimer: we are NEVER in negotiations with ‘hot’ new anything. As you well know.

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Waiters – What For Art Thou

waiters Ahh, Waiters. I was writing about Sex Hands earlier today, and that put me in mind of our first Split 12″, recorded back in the Winter of 2011 I think, and if I recall Waiters were the first band we actually recorded.

I’d had plenty of good results with the Toad Sessions by then of course, but I was still nervous, and the Waiters songs are the first and (and to date still the only) songs where I personally have made technical mistakes which threatened our ability to use the actual recordings themselves.

It turns out that by sheer good fortune we were able to work around my errors and for all they were one of the most low-profile bands on that Split 12″ (except maybe Dolfinz who seem to have quietly drifted off into non-existence) I am still so proud of the songs they did with us – that sense of sad, lazy melancholy still feels to me like some of the best stuff I’ve ever recorded.

I offered to help them record an album in the same way afterwards, but for apparently they wanted to work at a slightly slower and more deliberate pace. It’s a shame, but that kind of thing happens with bands, and you can’t push anyone into something they aren’t entirely comfortable with, particularly not at this level where none of us are getting rich out of any of this.

Anyhow, Jon moving to the States seemed to put the brakes on a Waiters album permanently, but I forgot that a while back they asked me about this recording. I loved the songs, but at the time I said that I thought it would be financially a bit crazy, because 12″s are expensive to press, and you can only really sell a four-song EP for so much.

CF Records in Belfast, however, seem to have disagreed, which is excellent news. They specialise in short-run and limited edition releases, and clearly have a lot more experience in this area than I do, and I am delighted this release has found a way in the end because the songs are fucking ace. If you look at the rest of their releases you’ll see what I mean – so much good stuff.

This stuff embodies so much of the stuff I love about Waiters. I love Joe’s voice – just a little bit flat, in a way, but with such a warmth to it. When he sings sad songs you really do believe him, and for someone who likes sad music as much as I do that’s quite a big deal. The rhythm section chugs along mechanically but a little uncertainly, almost as if it is struggling to hold the whole song together. I don’t think these lads rehearse all that much, so that ‘about to stumble to a standstill’ feel may be simply an aesthetic choice or it might simply be what was actually happening in the room when they recorded.

Grey Matters and Mirror Threat are just gorgeous songs, and classic examples of that thrumming rhythm, slightly plaintive vocal delivery and unobtrusively downbeat atmosphere which make Waiters songs so compelling, and which made me so excited about the first Split 12″ when I pulled them off the desk and started the mixing process. I sincerely hope that between Joe’s stuff with Water World and Sex Hands, Perry’s fantastic Comfortable on a Tightrope stuff and umm… well I’m actually not all that sure where Jon is living now, that they still find the time to keep this band going, because they are bloody ace.

Waiters – Vacillate Wildly from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

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Maston – Opal

maston Looking at the actual purchase link for this album it appears I am actually writing a review from the point of view of only having heard Side 1. Never mind. We don’t do serious analysis here anyway, just pointing at good things and shouting ‘oh look, this is good’ at the internet in the hopes that someone else might take an interest as well.

Looking at the web shop of Stroll On Records you’ll see why I am being a bit blasé about this – their releases are generally excellent anyway, so I am prepared to go out on a limb and say ‘I have heard enough – this is really good’. Have a listen to their Soundcloud page here.

Anyhow, Opal is dreamy, meandering and excellent. The songs can be whole pop songs or wee snippets, instrumentals or simple pop tunes, but it all flows together really well, feeling at times like the soundtrack to a baffling sci-fi film where they never quite resolve what is reality and what is only happening inside your head.

There’s a wistfulness to it as well, perhaps achieved by the sense of vaseline-on-the-lens, blurred romanticism, and at times that sort of stylish 60s film score feel. It’s not by any means an unusual mixture these days, but this is done really well, and is one of those records I just warmed to immediately.

The band’s other work is perhaps a little more upbeat and for all this is a little different, it still actually filters through, providing a nice purposeful sense of rhythm throughout most of this record and preventing it meandering off into blind alleys. It’s dreamy, it’s a little ramshackle, but it’s never just noodling.

Get one here.

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Sex Hands – Pleh

sexhands Listening to this has been a surprisingly nostalgic experience for me. The reason for this is that Gay Marriage, Chandler in a Box and The One Where the Stripper Cries were all recorded and mixed by myself for our first ever Song, by Toad Split 12″ some three years ago, and hearing their proper versions on a full album is rather an emotional experience, albeit in a quiet little way.

Invariably I find myself listening to the album versions of those songs and wondering if they are somehow closer to what the band wanted than what they got from us, or whether they preferred the performances or whether they simply rattled all the songs together in one session and these are just the current versions, rather than any kind of improvement. This is sort of creepy ex-boyfriend behaviour, I acknowledge that, but it’s almost impossible not to fall into the trap.

Without wishing to insult the band, it’s something of a weird thing to find what is basically a smart-arsed concept band by its very definition (all the songs are about episodes of Friends, in case the song titles above didn’t give it away) progressing from a few catchy singles into the relatively legitimate territory of releasing a debut album.

In a way, once you get the joke, you could argue that the band itself doesn’t need to exist much beyond that. ‘Friends? Yeah, right. Oh wait! Holy shit, they were fucking serious!’ and that’s about as far as you have to go.

Except this is a really, really good album. I am not allowed to use the word ‘garage’ to describe them, because apparently they have never been anywhere near a garage, but you know what that means as a sort of stylistic shorthand of course: rough-and-ready guitar pop songs, with plenty of growl, a bit of thrash from time to time and muffled vocals.

And, basically, the tunes are fucking great. From the instrumental guitar intro of Space Song, to the faintly surreal experience of listening to hugely hummable songs like On A Break whilst knowing exactly which intensely tedious dead horse the Friends writers were flogging at the time they wrote all the source material. Christ, that fucking thread just refused to fucking die. But it’s a cracking song.

And this brings me to something which might sound like over-rationalisation: the number of times people go into intense critiques of what depth and what subtlety they find in pop music, when this is almost by its very definition anti-intellectual. It’s shallow and basically frivolous, and let’s see what the writers at places like The Quietus or Pitchfork, where the serious music writing is done, actually make of this. I mean, it’s about Friends, for fuck’s sake, meaning that as soon as you have anything serious to say you are already being mocked by the nature of the record itself. It’s like music writing has been pre-satirised.

So really there’s nothing to be said about this. It’s a weird, silly record with awesome tunes and you should buy a copy because it is hugely enjoyable to listen to. It’s just pop music, I suppose.

Sex Hands – Chandler in a Box from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

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Jonnie Common – Trapped in Amber Album Launch Shows

Jonnie Common‘s glorious new album – yes, seriously, glorious – is being released into the world on Halloween of this year (pre-order your copy here) and to celebrate, we are arranging some launch shows. And they will be fantastic. Therefore you should come.

Aberdeen is (tragically) going to be the last Citizen Mule gig, so please give the silly oaf (Stevie, not Jonnie) a good send-off. The Edinburgh show is in the rather gorgeous Pilrig St. Paul’s, halfway down Leith Walk, and on the Saturday night in Glasgow the Save-As Collective have a special night planned, with a Miaoux Miaoux DJ set and everything.

The album is great, the shows are going to be great, I am just chuffed to bits all round with this whole business. And not a cynical comment in sight. What’s happened to me? It’s like I don’t even know myself anymore.

Thursday 13th November – Aberdeen
At Downstairs, with Christ and Colin Austin – tickets £5 on the door

Friday 14th November – Edinburgh
At Pilrig St. Paul’s with Wolf – tickets here.

Saturday 15th November – Glasgow
At the Glad Cafe with Wolf & Ross Sutherland – tickets here.

And just for fun, here is Jonnie’s new single.

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Five Years of Audio Antihero

audioantihero Running a record label can be a little like being in Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition at times, in that I lose count of the times I get into conversations which start with ‘The toughest thing about running a record label… wait, wait, the two toughest thi… actually the THREE toughest things about running a record label are…’ and so on and so forth.

It’s not the same as being in a band, but it’s close. I don’t think maintaining a level head amongst near constant rejection and occasional hyperbolic adulation is quite as personal a challenge when you’re one step removed from the actual making of the music. But there is what can only be described as a crushing sense of responsibility to the people who choose you to be the one to do your best with their life’s work, and make sure it gets out in the world properly, particularly if you are small and tend to work with friends and people who personally trust you.

A pal of mine who I have known since very near the beginning of the label is Jamie from Audio Antihero. You’ve heard about Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Nosferatu D2 and Superman Revenge Squad on the blog before, but more or less everything the label releases is good. And he has the best label motto of all time: “Specialists in commercial suicide.” I wish I’d thought of that first.

If you don’t trust me on that one, well there is a very simple remedy. To celebrate their first five years of existence they are offering up a free sampler – well pay-what-you-like, which is NOT THE SAME THING! – which you can get from their Bandcamp page here.

If you want a clear indication of why I like this label so much, I think it is summed up in their press release which contains maybe even more sarcasm and bitter cynicism than even these pages:

“It’s our “Birthday” – Audio Antihero has been a label for five long years. It could have gone worse, I suppose. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of it. Thanks for supporting.

50% OFF:
Get 50% off anything from our Bandcamp for the next 48 hours (expires Friday) with the discount code “fuckthisshit” (after that, it’ll switch to a 15% off code). Valid on anything (CD/Digital/Cassette/Stress Ball).”

Kindred spirits, clearly. Anyhow, go and buy things. Or least listen to them closely, to make up for the fact that I didn’t write about the Cloud album when I actually rather liked it. Sorry Jamie. Here’s to the next five years old chap!

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An Orgy of (sort of) Exploitative Vinyl Re-issues

Frozen So many vinyl-reissues and only so much cash. I fucking hate this kind of choice, and I can’t help but feel a bit ripped off, but the truth of the matter is that for all it seems a bit cheeky, I still really, really want these immaculate new vinyl versions of old albums I love.

Part of Guy Hands’ comically disastrous purchase of EMI a few years ago was the anticipation of mining the back catalogue of the label for infinite re-packaging and re-release. It was supposed to be a viable new model, and for all it failed completely, the idea was clearly not crazy because a lot of people are enthusiastically embracing large aspects of it today.

For example Mute have just sold their back catalogue to BMG, and one of the first things that they did was to decide upon an immediate re-release of most of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ back catalogue. As a massive Nick Cave fan, of course this is thrilling news for me, albeit in a slightly wary sort of way.

But really, given I have already bought a lot of these albums a couple of times already (the old vinyl -> tape -> CD -> etc… milking process) there is a perfectly reasonable argument to make that this is basically just ripping off an existing fanbase, exploiting their nostalgia and love for the bands to get your hands in their now well-stuffed middle aged pockets. It can feel, no matter how much I love a lot of the music, pretty grubby.

This isn’t a new thought to be considering, of course, but at this point in time there are three series of these reissues which all seem to be approaching it a little differently, and I think it sort of highlights where I start to feel exploited, and where I think that it feels less like back-catalogue-flogging and more like fan-boy completism.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series

It feels fair to say that pretty much no-one has exploited their back catalogue more (or indeed better) than Bob Dylan. Live show reissues, rarities, early demos, encyclopaedic album sessions… you name it, if he’s recorded it, someone has remastered it, stuck it on vinyl and flogged it to idiots like me.

For all I feel that my weakness for Bob Dylan has been identified and exploited, though, I am not sure I would really call the Bootleg Series exploitative. It’s a bit merciless, I guess – I mean, holy fuck, how many hundreds and hundreds of pounds have they managed to prise out of me since this series first started, but holy hell it’s good. The records are beautifully packaged and accompanied by gorgeous design and extensive writing and photography, and this really helps emphasise the raison d’être of the collection, as well as making it a wonderful thing to own in and of itself.

Some of it’s a bit obscure and weird, but for the most part this is all new material as well, things which existing über-fans and regular passive fans can enjoy equally. As an example, the 1966 Royal Albert Hall recording is arguably the greatest live album of all time. For a casual Bob Dylan fan, this contains some of the most ferocious and vital recordings of his music – it’s not just scratchy shit, played and recorded less well than the album the songs were released on, these are actually the best versions ever captured of many of these tunes. On the other hand my parents are huge Dylan fans – my mum was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall show which gets surreptitiously spliced into the recording part of the way through. They were, in fact, amongst the outraged folkies who howled in dismay as their hero went electric.

When I bought this for my folks I said ‘I know you’ll love the acoustic half of this, but just listen to the full band side – it’s one of the most electric (ha ha), confrontational performances I have ever heard’. Predictably, after a few weeks they got back to me saying ‘well yes, but the acoustic side really is incredible. It’s Dylan at his best really.’ But what surprised me was my dad taking the time, almost a year later, to agree that the second album, the plugged-in part, really was incredible – that it really was the highlight of the album.

So it works for casual fans, it works for lifelong fans, and for someone like myself it made me understand just how intense the betrayal when Dylan went electric really was for his fans, even to a degree for society itself, something I could never have understood from simply reading about it. This may be the pinnacle of Dylan’s Bootleg Series and an exceptional moment in music history, but if you are going to mercilessly mine a back catalogue for things to sell to people, this is how you do it.

The Wedding Present Reissues

The other vinyl reissues I wanted to discuss are a little different from the Dylan Bootleg Series, in that they aren’t releases of material people haven’t necessarily heard before, they are simply plain old reissues of old albums to an established fanbase. This is where things start to feel a little more dubious. ‘Hey, people who already bought this the first time, how about buying it AGAIN? This time for TWICE THE PRICE because it’s a deluxe reissue on heavy vinyl.’ You know what I mean.

Where these reissues make sense, however, is that The Wedding Present were at their most prominent during the nineties nadir of vinyl manufacture. A lot of their stuff was pressed, if at all, in runs so tiny that getting hold of the bastard things is a serious challenge. I know. I have tried. Bizarro and Seamonsters can be tracked down, but the likes of Watusi and Saturnalia represent a bit more of a challenge and can be rather expensive. So for all I kind of resent paying once again for albums I have already bought on CD, well, I still sort of get it, and really it’s my own stupid choice.

Plus, once again, the artwork may not be new but they have taken care with the re-packaging and included single b-sides and EP released around the time of the album as well, and the Wedding Present are a very good b-side band. I still am sulking about it a bit, I must confess. I have successfully tracked down Bizarro and Seamonsters second hand, and I am now looking at these re-releases wondering if I really, really think it’s worth it but… oh, I don’t know. It’s tricky. There’s good stuff here, but it does feel a bit like I am being tricked into paying for the same damn thing over and over again.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Reissues

This is actually today’s announcement: full vinyl reissues of more or less every fucking Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. This was a proper fucking forehead palm-smack moment for me, because I have put a fair bit of time into finding these recently, and to own slightly tatty old copies when new, heavy, shiny ones will be available so soon is hugely galling.

Beyond just plain bad luck with timing, however, there are a couple of aspects of this which really do smell rather strongly of fish. The first and most obvious one is that this series of reissues includes fucking Dig Lazarus Dig, which was only released in 2008 in the first place.  Come on, lads, there’s surely no fucking way that merits a reissue already.

The second, and one which perhaps annoys me the most, is this: for all these are all being remastered the actual quote from the press release about the artwork is this: “Each album has been crafted to reflect the original release from the cover to the printed inner sleeves”. Now, I may be being unreasonably cynical, but to me that reads like they haven’t really done anything to the artwork at all. It’s possible that the original recordings were over-compressed in the mastering stage, because that’s what people did back then, but unless they are remastering the original mixes there’s not much that tweaking an over-compressed master can really do, so even that causes me to raise my eyebrows a little.

I suppose it’s also arguable that a lot of these were originally released on shitty 80s vinyl pressings where the record itself was wafer thin and the liner notes were minimal, so maybe these will just be slightly better quality, but these records are out there so for the most part their scarcity is debatable, with the exception of a couple.

The final product may prove me wrong here, but what this whole enterprise smells of to me is someone realising that the market for second-hand Nick Cave vinyl is strong, there is no in-house stock, and dammit that money should be ours. And that’s actually fair enough, I guess. If people are buying Nick Cave records, they should be buying them from Nick Cave.  But once again, I find myself in a position where I have paid for these damn albums so many times I am really starting to resent it. I love the music, I go to the shows, but if I am going to cough up for something like my third fucking version of Henry’s Dream then at least give me something new so that I don’t just feel like you’re taking the piss.

Conclusions

Well, simple, really. I assume that most of these records are being sold to existing fans. It’s possible that this is considered as a chance to gain new press for old material and perhaps address an emerging fan base who might be more likely to buy vinyl than they were ten or fifteen years ago, but in general this stuff is being sold to people like me: people in their 30s and 40s with slightly deeper pockets than we once had and an enduring love for the bands in question. So really, as much as I moan, I really do want these products.

I am delighted about the chance to hear Bob Dylan scare the shit out of his audience for having an electric guitarist and a drummer in his band. I’m actually quite excited about being able to get the three 10″ vinyl reissue of Seamonsters with all the accompanying b-sides and EP tracks. And actually, I hadn’t thought about how good an album No More Shall We Part is for ages, so I am pretty chuffed about it being available on vinyl as well. But please give me something. If you are going to come back for my money again and again for the same material, at least put effort into the artwork, the context provided by the accompanying material, the historical significance for dedicated fans of the band of the unheard material you include, and.. well pretty much anything that makes this more than just a clean, new duplicate of an album I already own, and probably also bought on CD in the 90s too.

It needs to be a bit more than that, because one side is giving dedicated fans something of depth, interest which strengthens their relationship with the band, and on the other is simply ripping people off because vinyl is back again and you know you can get yet another payday for the same damn material. So it’s a very fine line, but not one you want to fall on the wrong side of.