Song, by Toad

Archive for September, 2008

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Anyone Heard of Jeffrey Lewis?

Jeffrey Lewis

Yes, I know, I know, I am the only person who had never listened to any Jeffrey Lewis until a fortnight or so ago. You can all stop laughing now. Sometimes, as with Neutral Milk Hotel, you hear a name again and again and just never quite make the time to investigate any further.

What can I say? Fucking brilliant. Far from the sensitive singer-songwriter I was vaguely expecting, there is a deranged fire-and-brimstone fervour to his hurricane of verbiage, which is delivered as little more than a barely-controlled stream of consciousness.  For something that sounds so close to being out of control, it’s really amazingly well put together.  The words roll around and wander off but they periodically return to whence they started, just to remind us all that actually little of this is accidental.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of an edge to everything Lewis does.  Raw emotion seems to be simmering below the surface of all of it.  On some songs it’s pretty obvious, as the electric guitar is frenetically bashed and he launches one polemic after another into the microphone.  On the quieter, sadder stuff this kind of barely suppressed well of feeling is a little less strident, but still seems to be on the verge of breaking its chains and screaming at you.

Mrs. Toad and I were listening to the superb 12 Crass Songs on the way home from End of the Road, and she remarked that it must be hard work being so angry all the time.  Although those are actually Crass lyrics, the biting cynicism of much of Lewis’ work does seem like it might just burn a person out after a while.  There are songs, actually, where a weariness of this sort of nature does seem to be in evidence, but the fact that he feels so many things strongly enough to tire himself out is what makes his music so brilliant.

So, another very, very late discovery, but I am hugely pleased I finally get it!

Jeffrey Lewis – Back When I Was 4
Jeffrey Lewis – End Result
Jeffrey Lewis – If You Shoot the Head You Kill the Ghoul
Jeffrey Lewis – Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror

Website | More mp3s | Buy stuff from Jeff Lewis | Buy albums on Amazon

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Have You Heard of This Band Called Neutral Milk Hotel…?

A bit like my recent discovery of Jeffrey Lewis, I get the impression there will be a collective howl of disbelief from my readership that it is only now, in 2008 and at age 32, that I have finally, for the first time, listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Virtually every band I have ever liked cites them as a formative influence, Alela Diane put one of their songs on her session podcast, Julian from The Young Republic has waxed lyrical about them to me for about half an hour, and somehow I just never quite got around to listening to them. Don’t ask me why. I think I tried it once ages ago and have some vague memories of music so hushed it was just a little bit featureless, which doesn’t seem to correspond in the slightest to what I am listening to now. Not even close – it’s odd.

More or less everyone I know not only knows but loves this album as well, and do you know the only reason that I finally got my shit together and listened to it? Because Neil from Meursault dowloaded it onto my computer without asking and then insisted.

And, of course, I’m loving it.  Of course I am – if half the bands I love are as influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel as they say they are then it’s almost inevitable that I like them as well.  I don’t know where I got the impression that they were boringly gentle, either.  It’s weird how you get these weird impressions of bands – I’ve been hearing about them for so long that I kind of accidentally built up this little cluster of impressions around them, mostly, it seems, plucked from thin air.

It’s funny to hear an album like this for the first time; ones which have inspired so many of my favourite artists.  I hear so many elements of groups I love drifting in and out of the music – Beirut, The Decemberists, all sorts.  Given the slightly nasal, pained vocal delivery and inflections of trumpet and violin embellishing a  good, direct guitar strum I suppose it is hardly surprising that this sounds so familiar.

Odd how things like this sometimes take so long to finally knock on the door and properly introduce themselves to you.

Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Neutral Milk Hotel – Communist Daughter
Neutral Milk Hotel – Ghost

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Live in Edinburgh This Week – 28th September 2008

Edinburgh in Autumn

Well it’s welcome back to Edinburgh for Mrs. Toad, returned on Saturday evening. It’s good to have the stroppy old bitch back, telling me all the things I haven’t done to her satisfaction during her absence. I’d forgotten how much I missed that incessant grumble.

This week isn’t really live week for me, if I’m honest. I have sessions and interviews that are woefully behind schedule and need dealing with before they go stale. I might sneak out and see the Byrons on Thursday, but that might be it I think. Ah the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, when did it foresake me?

Thursday 2nd October 2008: The Byrons & The Fnords at The Ark.
Okay, okay, so the Ark is a shitty venue, but this looks like fun. I like the Byrons, they have a new EP apparently, and given how different their previous recorded material was from their live show I’m very curious to hear it. The new stuff on their MySpace page is sounding pretty sharp, so it’ll be good to see them live and in person once again. The Fnords aren’t going to win any prizes for originality but they play a sort of rockabilly punk and they do it pretty well, judging from their MySpace, so they could be great fun.
The Byrons – Lights Have Changed

Saturday 4th October 2008: Johnny Foreigner & Danananackroyd at Cabaret Voltaire.
When Johnny Foreigner played Henry’s last year the place was half empty, but the reviews were spectacularly favourable. I personally have always been just a little ambivalent as far as they are concerned, but there were a lot of very trustworthy sorts getting very excited about their brand of furious guitar-bothering.
Johnny Foreigner – The Houseparty Scene is Killing You

Sunday 5th October – Fanattica, Black Diamond Express, Claes Cem & Injuns at Henry’s Cellar Bar.
I don’t know too much about any of these bands, but I’ve been intending to see Black Diamond Express and Fanattica for a while now. There should be plenty of real instruments at this gig, which is always welcome. Where is the good punk these days, then?
Fanattica – Black Cat, White Cat

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Toadcast #39 – Orphaned Songs

Toadcast

This podcast contains a large number of songs from albums which I didn’t really enjoy enough to want to review, but which nevertheless contained some excellent songs. I never want to give a small or emerging band a shitty review because it just feels mean. For me there’s a certain threshold to be reached, after which you are fair game for anything I feel like saying because, frankly, why would you care, but smaller bands are never going to get a really hard time on this site. Unless they behave like dicks of course, but I digress.

A lot of these albums contain songs I really like, but only one or two, and I really wanted them to be heard. Also, given that your music taste and mine probably only partially overlap anyway (otherwise it would just be creepy) I think it’s quite possible you might disagree and want to explore further. It always amazes me how seriously people can take my opinion, as some sort of self-appointed arbiter of musical worthiness, when neither I nor any other critic is any better placed or more worthy to judge than any random fanny off the street. The only thing that sets us apart is not musical judgment, it’s the slightly dubious compulsion to constantly be writing or talking about it for some unknown reason.

Anyway, that’s only about half a dozen songs on this list, the rest are just there either because they don’t entirely belong anywhere else, hence the Orphaned Songs title, and partly because I just felt like it. Enjoy…

Toadcast #39 – Orphaned Songs

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01. Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers – Let the Fever Out (HearYa Live Session) (02.40)
02. Passion Pit – Sleepyhead (07.30)
03. The Hurricanes – Down Below (13.46)
04. Simon Bookish – Dumb Terminal (21.30)
05. Adam & the Amethysts – Bumble Bee (23.49)
06. KiNo – Won’t Do (29.29)
07. Rags & Feathers – Silent Movie Starlets (33.04)
08. Woodpigeon – Home as a Romaticised Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always & Forever (37.39)
09. Eagle Seagull – I’m Sorry but I’m Beginning to Hate Your Face (44.56)
10. Meursault – Westward, Ho (51.53)
11. Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio (57.26)

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Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

Jenny Lewis

I’m having a hightly schizophrenic time listening to this album.  In the manner of a strident PTA mother slightly out of her depth amongst intelligent people who have been thinking and talking about much bigger issues for years, I find myself struggling to form even the most rudimentary English sentence.  No wait, maybe that’s someone else I’m thinking of.  I’m just struggling to get my opinion straight.

I think my flip-flopping may be simply following the lead of the album itself, because it seems to be enormously variable.  There are times when it is painfully bad – cod soul-rock from another era, lamely pastiched in this one.  There are times when it’s bloody brilliant too – ballsy yet beautiful embodying that weird combination of spirited independence and girlish coquettishness that Lewis herself seems to exude.

She’s forsaken most of the gospel of Rabbit Fur Coat, and now explores a more rock ‘n’ roll direction, occasionally with real verve.  See Fernando is terrific, but Next Messiah has great moments and really cringeworthy ones, epitomising the dichotomy of the whole album.

Amongst the slower stuff, there’s a lovely, easy soul to some of it, lush, intimate aspects to other bits and then irritatingly banal Radio 2 leanings to others.  Godspeed is poor.  Sing a Song For Them is one of the worst songs I’ve heard in ages.  Imagine Michael Jackson’s worst Heal the World instincts dripping around a melody-free plod, with high school harmonies and power ballad guitar finishing off what little remains of your will to live – awful.  But then, Pretty Bird and Black Sand are just lovely and Jack Killed Mom is rollicking.

I hate to say it but you’re on your own with this one people.  Some of it’s great, some of it’s dreadful and I really don’t know what to make of it.  Playlists, I suspect.

Jenny Lewis – Pretty Bird
Jenny Lewis – See Fernando

Website | More mp3s | Buy from Amazon

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Fudge Yourself Five Ways From Friday

Tantrum!

In order to get into a good mood for this weekend, how about some reasonably good news from the European Parliament? This recent vote slaps down the recent threats by ISPs to simply disonnect people accused of naughty file-sharing. The joy of this is not that I am necessarily in favour of completely unrestricted file-sharing of any and everything, but that if you are going to threaten something as drastic, in the 21st Century, as cutting off someone’s internet access then you had better have some independent oversight of this kind of decision. Law enforcement, basically, should be performed by law enforcement agencies, not by ISPs at the behest of the companies who give them most of their high value content.

It’s weird, here in Europe we seem to be stuck in between the Mercans and the Middle East at the moment, with moves like the one above which come dangerously close to mimicking the dangerous American taste for completely unaccountable law enforcement, which basically means no law at all. The on the other side, we’ve got the crazies in the Middle East trying to get the Declaration of Human Rights to include fucking idiotic clauses that state that it is a violation of someone’s human rights to have their religious sensibilities. Without wishing to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, fuck you, fuck your infantile fairytales, and fuck right off and snivel yourself to sleep in the dark of your bedroom, coddled in your childish fantasies that we have some sort of privileged places in the universe, that anyone gives a fuck about your fucking feelings and that you won’t die and rot like every other living thing on Earth. You fucking baby.

I give the Americans a hard time over their dismantling of the rule of law in their own country, something we dismayingly seem to be trying to mimic on our side of the pond, but honestly, their freedom of speech laws, and specifically the First Amendment, would be very, very welcome in amongst all this craziness. I am reminded of the quote from legal scholar Ronald Dworkin: “the only right you don’t have in a democracy is the right not to be offended”. Quite. Fucking. So.

Anyway, it’s Friday, and we are having a half day here at Proper Job in order to go out for a meal this afternoon and then get biblically rat-arsed in the evening. So Izzy, if you’re reading this, beware of dribbling design engineers stumbling about your pub at about eight o’clock. Feel free to sling us all out – we’ll probably deserve it.

So without further ado, here’s your Five for Friday.  Please take the opportunity, and try and treat the subject matter with some creativity – calling Christians a bunch of cunts isn’t very imaginative:

1. Cause some religious offence.
2. Cause some political offence.
3. Cause some musical offence.
4. Cause some national offence.
5. Cause some cultural offence.

That should do it – jihad by Saturday.

Tom Lehrer – National Brotherhood Week
Yukon – Sweden
Slow Club – Apples & Pairs
Yo La Tengo – Little Eyes
The Fiery Furnaces – Inca Rag/Name Game

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Pale Young Gentlemen

Pale Young Gentlemen

The internet is so brimming with bands and suggestions, I am forever letting things slip past by mistake. I remember hearing the name Pale Young Gentlemen a year or more ago when they released their self-titled debut album. I never followed up on it, not because of lack of interest, more because my musical time has become so crowded and when the brain gets a bit full it tends to act like a sieve, leaking various random pieces of information, never to be remembered.

Well, not quite. I happened across them reading Another Form of Relief the other day and listening to Clap Your Hands, it does echo somewhere back in the depths of my memory, so it’s not quite gone yet. Anyway, they have a new album coming out in early October, and as soon as I am able to offer a sensible opinion I will be reviewing it*.

It’s odd though, just as I have started saying that I am getting a little bored by the incredible ubiquity of whimsical indie folk, awash with orchestration and instruments and drawing heavily from a combination of old folk and cabaret, here comes something in exactly that vein which is just brilliant. What’s the difference? Well I think that irrespective of your relationship to the genre or style, and no matter how jaded you might become, good stuff is still good stuff.

The other thing is that I don’t think these guys are too pushy. They do incorporate a lot of the aforementioned influences into their work, but there’s a laid back, gentle pop sound to a lot of their other stuff which ends up being more important. It’s more about the overall feeling than the arrangements, I think.

I await their album with real interest, and will be buying their previous one as soon as I get paid.

Pale Young Gentlemen – Clap Your Hands
Pale Young Gentlemen – Crook of My Good Arm

MySpace | More mp3s | Website (with webshop)

* Yes, yes, ‘we could be waiting a long time, then’.  Ha ha you fucking comedians.

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The Toad Interviews the Builders & the Butchers

The Builders & the Butchers

It can be a little difficult to interview a band in the absence of the main songwriter, so certain questions about the slightly arcane, grotesque nature of the subject matter can’t really be put. Other rather brilliant ones can, though.

Like how on Earth the band ended up guerilla gigging the lines for other people’s shows early in their days. Apparently they’d just rock up to group of people queueing to get into a gig and play for them, and when I ask them about it they just shrug it off.

“We’d been practising for a while and we didn’t have any shows booked, so we thought ‘we wish we were playing this show’ so we would crash the show. And when there’s tons of people standing in line for a show, they’re already there for music and you can see what kind of a response you would get.”

I can’t quite imagine that sort of habit working very well in the drizzle of Scotland, but The Builders & the Butchers seems to have a pretty relaxed attitude to what constitutes a performance. The fourth wall barely seems to be there at all.

“We ended up playing on the street a lot in downtown Portland. Mostly just practising, we were just kind of playing, seeing what would happen with it.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Kings of Leon – Only By the Night

Kings of Leon

I was very pleasantly surprised by the last Kings of Leon album, when they seemed to find some genuine bite, which gave their music a welcome boost in my estimation. Their first couple of albums were very enjoyable, although given how similar Aha Shake Heartbreak was to Youth & Young Manhood, I was very much ready to hear something different and I think Because of the Times delivered it.

This record continues in a similar vein to its direct predecessor, with a bit more snarl to the opening tracks, but seems to lose its way a little after that. Use Somebody is pretty rotten, sounding more like dismal classic rock than anything at all edgy or interesting.

The rest of the album continues to dance this coy little dance with us, with Revelry and 17 (do not listen to the words if you want to enjoy this one, they’re more than a little creepy) both good, but there are a few too many aimless drifts into some sort of soft/classic/borderline glam rock netherworld for me to really enjoy the album as a whole.

It’s the dubious territory inhabited by the bad songs which seems to overtake the enjoyment of the good ones, and somehow I find myself really not liking this record, despite liking quite a few songs off it. If they’d erred on the site of vitriol and energy I might have been less put off.

Kings of Leon – Closer
Kings of Leon – Revelry

Website | More mp3s | Buy from Amazon

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The Midwest Dilemma – Timelines & Tragedies

The Midwest Dilemma

This album may not be one which I end up showering with unconditional love, but it is really good and despite a few stodgy moments, for the most part I am really enjoying it.

The one-sentence summary: acoustic Americana, with a subtle instrumental backing that dips from old folk to stylised cinescape.   That ghostly bar-room orchestra lends the storytelling of the album the kind of dramatic flair it takes to lift the occasionally sluggish pace above its peers and elevate it to a somewhat higher plane.  Montreal and Francoise start the record really beautifully, and you know there’s little I like more than a little bit of tuba and clarient wandering around a song.  In fact, if you look at the full list of musicians on their MySpace page, there’s a bit more going on than just a bit of clarinet here and there.

The criticism I might have of this album is that it is just a little one-paced.  The few songs that do pick things up a little, such as the brilliant Chicago & North Western, stand out and there should, to my mind, be a couple more of them just to nudge things along a little bit here and there.  It’s no surprise that The Great Depression, one of their more rolling numbers, was chosen as the sample mp3 on their website.

For the most part, however, they do really well.  Much of the storytelling stems from a family history of the main songwriter, Justin Lamoureux, although how much artistic license is taken isn’t entirely clear.  It doesn’t really matter though, because the frequent absence of first person narration gives the whole concept just enough distance to steer clear of being a mere diary – it’s more like a historical variety pack, with the family timeline serving as no more than a guide to picking out the moments in history that are to be explored.

The storytelling is beautiful, actually, and the complex arrangements bring just enough theatricality to what is somewhat paradoxically quite a sparse, intimate album that you end up with an album that reads a little like a novel.  It’s just separate enough to bea conscious act of theatre, almost, but that side of it is generally subtle enough that you never feel too disconnected from the more personal aspect of the narrative.

The Midwest Dilemma – Francois
The Midwest Dilemma – Chicago & North Western

Website (buy the album here too) | More mp3s