Song, by Toad

Archive for the Reviews category

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Old Earth – Lay For June

oldearth Old Earth is someone I first came across a good few years ago now. Todd has released with fellow Edinburgh independent label Mini50 Records, recorded a Toad Session in our old house, and generally become integrated with the Edinburgh music community in that really nice way that sometimes happens in a day and age where staying in decent contact with people a long way away has never been easier.

Old Earth is a pretty prolific project, as you can tell from the Bandcamp page, and evolves fairly slowly. Micah P. Hinson does something similar: he doesn’t seem to change all that much, but I never get tired of hearing the new material.

There is a gradual evolution, though. Early Old Earth stuff was more droney and atmospheric, and whilst this new album is full of atmosphere and character, it’s less dense and slow-paced, veering more towards a constant rhythm of guitar which links every song together into one single half-hour track. The way Todd assembles everything together into one single piece of music like this some of the similarities between songs, particularly in the texture of them, start to really work for the record.

Almost exactly halfway through this all builds to a really nice big thrummy crescendo, before coming right down and settling into some of the quieter, plainer and more lovely music Old Earth have done. There are variations in pace and arrangement which we’ve not heard from Todd before, and although the changes aren’t massive, it just gives this the sense of an album which is gradually pushing the band in a different direction.

In some ways Old Earth feels like a twin spirit to our own Adam Stafford –  a messianic preacher with a guitar transforming himself into a howling banshee of pop.

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Seabuckthorn – They Haunted Most Thickly

seabuckthorn Instrumental music is a tricky one for me.  I am very much not an intellectual when it comes to listening to music, and you’ll never rarely hear me overanalysing something because in general I don’t have the tools to do it – I certainly don’t have the vocabulary of serious musical analysis, that’s for sure.

Basically, as regular readers of the blog will know, I operate on the basis of ‘I like this and this is why I think I do’. Sometimes though, particularly with instrumental stuff, I can find I like something because it has the right sort of sound and I’ve stopped paying attention halfway through and kind of assumed it was good, then I listen back a while later and find it really hasn’t managed to hold my attention in the long run. And that’s why I’ve waited so long to actually write about this album.

In terms of ‘sounds which Toad enjoys’ it’s right there. A lot of plucked acoustic guitars complemented by deep, ominous rumblings of cello and other droney instruments. It’s a bloody great counterpoint, and just as an overall observation, the general sound and tone of the album is absolutely gorgeous. It is the shimmering, beautiful soundtrack to a movie you can only imagine, and actually it does a pretty fine job of making you imagine it. Even the cover itself seems more like a movie still than album artwork.

It reminds me, actually, of the score British Sea Power composed for Man of Aran, not musically, but very much in the sense that this music would fit that film beautifully (preview on YouTubebuy a copy). Although maybe that was rather planted in my mind by the cover photograph. It still works though!

I suppose when there are no lyrics the overall pacing and rise and fall of the mood become ever-more important, and Seabuckthorn (which I think is more or less just the stage name of a guy called Andy Cartwright) manage that really well. This music can be quite ambient and peaceful, but there is a dark sense of brooding throughout which can either recede into mere atmospherics or push its way to the fore, bringing with it a sense of malevolence and tension which is genuinely gripping.

The vinyl has just arrived too, after months of delays, so if you order one now it should turn up fairly promptly. And boy does it look pretty!

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The Grey Estates & Negative Fun Records Present: Sugar Rush

sugarrush After yesterday’s rather joyful album of love song covers on Fuzzkill Records, here’s another covers compilation. It’s not themed or for charity this time, it’s just good. Lo-fi, outsider pop bands covering a spectrum of tunes from pop classics like Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac and Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer to more recent, underground fare like Riot Grrl by Keel Her. There are songs by Violent Femmes, The Cramps and Blink 182 in there too; it’s a really odd mix.

Honestly, I know a lot of people find tapes a fucking hassle, and it’s true that it is a pretty contrived format, and one which is genuinely obsolete and being kept alive rather artificially, but I still love them. I like making tapes, I like mixing in the new stuff with all the old tapes I used to make, and I really like the limited, closed off playlist unlike the ones I make on Spotify, YouTube or Soundcloud which can end up being six hours long.

I don’t commute, but I do a lot of relatively long distance driving as you know, and tapes are still by far the best thing for the car, fuck your iPhones. Also, cassette players are cheap as balls on eBay these days, and we now have one permanently installed in the kitchen. This is a bit of personal nostalgia I have to confess, but again, Mrs. Toad and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I like having that deliberately limited, familiar set of music there to listen to, rather than everything ever recorded in the whole world ever.

And this will soon be added to that collection!

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Fuzzkill Records March On With Spinning Coin and The Bullybuttons

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In terms of actual releases I think I would say that Fuzzkill Records have probably been my favourite label in Scotland over the last couple of years. They’ve out out all sorts of rough and ready guitar music, largely nineties-tinged, and with a real sense of energy and freedom. There have been sampler compilations, covers compilation, and EP after EP, mostly on tape, of the most promising new bands in Scotland. Their contribution to our fantastic David Cameron’s Eton Mess 12″ vinyl compilation which we released last November was absolutely invaluable.

While I was away in the States and not paying much attention to life back home they released new EPs by The Bellybuttons and Spinning Coin, both of which are well worth your time. Spinning Coin have just signed to Geographic Music, a label which I believe is run out of Monorail by Stephen Pastel and is a subsidiary of Domino, which bodes very well for their future indeed.

You hear the work of what I think is three different songwriters on their new self-titled EP, from the louche pop of Sean Armstrong to the frantic screaming of Cal Donnelly, but it still holds together really well. All this stuff has a real nineties indie feel to it, loose guitars, drawled vocals, but the tunes are fucking good like all of Fuzzkill’s stuff, there’s a real pop sensibility behind the rough and ready exterior.

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Infinity Girl

ig I went to fewer gigs than I anticipated while I was in New York late last year. Mrs. Toad doesn’t really like them, and we tended to spend our time exploring together, so it just didn’t happen all that much.

I turned forty years old while I was out there and was pretty pleased at the idea of spending my fortieth in New York City, not for any specific reason of course because we barely pay even the slightest attention to birthdays, but just because it felt like a nice landmark for such a memorable trip. Mrs. Toad happened to be away that particular week though, so what did I do? I went to Baltimore for the night instead, of course.

Brendon from Viking Moses lives down there and he’s become a pal over the last couple of years, and by sheer coincidence he just happened to be hosting a gig that night, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop down and visit.

Ironically enough, however, for me the standout band on the bill that night were a Brooklyn band called Infinity Girl. They remind me a little of Plastic Animals in a sense, although they’re a little heavier, whereas Plastic Animals are a bit more metronomic. They’re indie rock though, shoegazey and rocky in some ways, but perhaps more melodic than you might expect given that description.

It was great to watch live. It would be racket racket racket racket, and then suddenly this nasty riff would appear in the middle of it – one of the best balances between volume and melody I’ve seen in a while. They’ve been around for a few years now too, and there are actually a couple of albums to have a listen to on their Bandcamp page. Have a go.

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Sonny Smith – Sees All Knows All

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.24.26 If you pick your albums carefully whilst delving into Sonny Smith’s back catalogue you wouldn’t necessarily know that he was absolutely one hundred percent batshit insane, but I think he probably is.

You could look at his output for (the brilliant) Fat Possum Records and think that he does nice, borderline pastiche retro-pop, and he sort of does. Or he can. That stuff isn’t exactly bad either – I absolutely fucking love Hit After Hit, for example, which I think I once characterised as ‘Hill Valley 1955 doesn’t give a fuck’.

It’s a silly term, but it sort of makes sense. It has that milkshakes and drive-ins charm, but it’s delivered in a way which is just ever so slightly off. A bit slacker, a bit lazier, a bit deviant… I’m not sure what it is, but I fucking love it. But that’s a million miles away from this, which is nuttier than squirrel shite.

The first inkling I got as to how much creative energy Smith had, and the first time I started to realise quite how far he liked to deviate from the three-minute pop song, was the gloriously ambitious, utterly ridiculous, and brilliantly realised 100 Records Project. The idea was quite simple: 100 artists design covers for 100 fictional singles by 100 fictional bands, and Sonny Smith then made the actual songs – 200 of the fucking things because he did b-sides as well – to make these fictional bands a reality. Albeit a rather twisted reality.

The first I heard of Smith at all was his involvement in the glorious Earth Girl Helen Brown, which is one of the bands which emerged from the 100 Records project.

That whole EP is fucking glorious, but while there are some cracking pop tunes on there, there is also just a little bit of oddness, like this for example. What else emerged into the world from the 100 Records project was a little more straightforward though, and I didn’t think about it all that much until pretty much the entire thing became available on three volumes of cassette tape, of which I bought the lot. Broke Artist, which also makes an appearance on Sees All Knows All, was on one of those along with various other digressions, experimentations and the odd cracking, hummable wee gem.

So while you might be a bit shocked by this album if you’ve followed Sonny Smith’s more commercial releases, it seems almost inevitable if you’ve followed his more offbeat projects over the years. And weird as it is, it’s fucking brilliant.

Basically an album of rambling, surreal, spoken word storytelling set to music, but quite why I find it so utterly fascinating and enjoyable instead of just fucking terrible I have no idea, as something like this could so easily be the latter.

The delivery helps, I think. Smith is just as insouciant and laid-back as he is when he sings pop songs. Also, the text of the pieces themselves veers so unpredictably from the banal to the unpleasant to the hallucinogenically comical that you never really know where you stand. It’s autobiographical, apparently, but you never really know whether to take that kind of statement at face value. Whatever the fuck it is, there’s a strong chance you might just think I’ve lost my marbles recommending it, but seriously, this is absolutely great. Get one here.

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Kevin Morby

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Just to give you an idea of how ruthlessly efficient we are about keeping up with music news, no sooner did I sit down to write about Kevin Morby’s last album than I realised that he actually had a new one on the way. Yes, we’re that sharp.

In fact, I’m so shit at this that I think there’s actually been another album inbetween Harlem River, which is the one I was all excited about, and the new one which has just been announced. Ah well, fuck it, I’m telling you about music I heard in a bar whilst so shitfaced I had to ask the bartender the name of the album three fucking times before I actually remembered it. Shame on me.

This is one from when we were in Red Hook actually, and on our first night in Sunny’s (one of New York’s finest dive bars) the bartender played all sorts of excellent stuff, to the extent that I went straight on eBay and bought two albums then and there. Could be worse. The next time I was drunk in a Red Hook bar and went on eBay I ended up with another old Volvo.

Every single review of Morby’s stuff mentions that he either was or is the bass player for Woods, but I don’t really know Woods all that well, and in all honesty he now has so much of his own stuff out there that the point has become pretty much irrelevant anyway. A bit like the Sea Pinks and Girls Names.

Harlem River could, I suppose, be loosely characterised as a mixture of that warm, late night feel of Kurt Vile and the spooky otherworldliness of Timber Timbre. It’s really just so reassuring and and lovely. I don’t know about this particular style of music; in some ways it’s sort of like easy listening for hipsters, in that it doesn’t intrude all that music and envelops you in this warm sense of everything being okay. Winter evening red wine music.

Using those terms though it sounds like I am trying to come up with the snidest and most dismissive insult I can, but I promise you I am not, I absolutely fucking love this album. It’s the kind of record I have reached for again and again over the last few months and my enthusiasm shows no sign of waning. Even the first time I heard it it just felt instantly familiar, as if I’d been listening to it for years and years.

The new one’s due in the next few months, and hopefully there will be more of the same. Looking at the press releases and various announcements there seem to be plenty of other vocalists involved, and if there’s one thing I am a sucker for it’s a lush vocal harmony, and the brief excerpt in the teaser video below sounds really promising too.

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Oloff – Buddy

buddy It’s a slightly odd concept this, but it works pretty flawlessly if you like wonky, eccentric stuff with peculiar charm. And who doesn’t.

This is a mumbled album of self… well, err, self-loathing isn’t quite right but it’s relatively self-critical at the very least.

The music, on the other hand, is composed entirely of chopped up Buddy Holly samples, giving this whole business a weird sort of ‘Buddy Holly in Dystopia’ feel. It’s alienating and odd, but still the cheerful chimes of the Buddy Holly stuff and the half-hearted self-evisceration of the lyrics ends up producing a weirdly agreeable combination.

You look at a description like this and it could as easily be utterly brilliant as it could be completely awful. Fortunately, this is fucking ace. Fuck knows why it even exists, but I am glad it does.

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Black Polygons – À Travers

atrav Having spent three years in France while she was (kind of) growing up, Mrs. Toad will tell you that French radio can be a little odd. There are laudable rules in place which mandate a significant percentage of the music to be Francophone, as a means to combat the overwhelming plague of English language culture currently smothering the world.

I respect this stance, but it did seem rather oddly to result in a near-monopoly on French radio of Johnny Halliday and the fucking Eagles. I am not sure how the rule led to the result, but for some reason they seem inextricably linked in my mind.

My relationship with French music has also always been somewhat unfairly tainted by the ubiquity of Johnny Halliday on the airwaves, and I never really got into genres that they are really good at like hip hop, although some of their twee pop is pretty awesome.

This is nothing like that stuff, however, but I do like it and it is French and I always appreciate music that pulls me away from lazy habits, even if you don’t take your own lazy thinking that seriously.

Black Polygons’ Bandcamp tags sum the music up pretty neatly, so I suppose there’s no massive need for me to elaborate: ambient, experimental, lo-fi minimalist noise. And that’s pretty much what it is. Some pretty twinkles appear to lighten the mood, but there is really satisfying enjoyment of tone and buzz on this album. A lot of the guitar playing just teases a growl of distortion along for minutes on end, letting it rise and fall in a way which just about lets it meld with the more melodic elements, but in general just enjoying the rumble for its own sake.

There are quite lovely, sweeping cinematic elements here, particularly in some of the keyboard parts, although I’d love to see the movie that dared to use anything as dirty as this stuff for its soundtrack. It would probably be set in the pale winter sunlight in Iceland somewhere, with a handsome bearded man looking moody in a thick knitted jumper.

Anyway, it’s always a shame when albums as enjoyable as this don’t have a physical release anywhere to be found, but you can download this from their Bandcamp for a few bucks and it is more than worth that. The internet free-for-all can mean music like this gets lost a little, I fear, and this really doesn’t deserve it at all.

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Coin Locker Kid

coinlockerkid ‘Unapologetic art rap’ is not really the kind of music you would expect me to get into, really, is it. And having been raised in Austria I can certainly tell you that music from there is generally not the sort of thing I would expect to warm to either.

Oddly enough, though, I’ve found a surprising amount of stuff from Austria I’ve liked in the last few years. Not a lot, mostly little isolated gems here and there, but certainly way more than I was ever aware of when I lived there.

And as for the art rap? Well, seriously, just listen to this. If you want to make the very loftiest comparisons I suppose you could inflect early Jib Kidder with a bit of The Books and be sort of close-ish.

There are lovely moments, some discordant wailing, layers of samples going in every direction and plenty and plenty of ‘what the fuck is even going on here’ moments. It’s really all over the place, and in all honesty I am still digesting what I really think about it. There are times when it all gets a bit annoying, but he still has a pretty good nose for when to reign it back in and do something less confrontational.

There’s quite a lot of stuff on their Bandcamp page too, and I am only just starting to go through it now so I can’t tell you too much, apart from the fact that Sweet Caroline, yes that Sweet Caroline, is incorporated quite fantastically into the first track of Traumnovelle, which all in all seems so far like a slightly less weird cousin to Hailstorm & Maelstrom. It’s still pretty awesome though, and all this stuff is downloadable on a pay what you like basis too.

What an excellent surprise to open my emails to this morning.

And for just a little bit of added ‘what the actual fuck’: