Song, by Toad

Archive for the Reviews category

avatar

Krill – Lucky Leaves

krill Krill (I think it’s just one guy) seems to be doing pretty well in the States, with features in Stereogum and Pitchfork and some high-profile support slots to their name, but they still feel like a fledgling band just finding their way.

Their Bandcamp page suggests that they’ve been around for a couple of years now, but there’s something about the sound and the scornful, snarled self-excoriation of the lyrics which seems to suggest youth finding its first, unbridled musical expression of all sorts of previously buried things.

Although maybe my impression has more to do with the people who pointed me in the direction of the band, who are in their late teens themselves, and maybe I put two and two together and got five.

There’s a lot of cripplingly awkward slop rock knocking around my stereo at the moment, a lot of it so belligerently disinterested as to head off questions about quality or musicianship before they can even be formed.  This has a little in common with that stuff, I suppose, in that it has a fiercely snarled, nasal quality which perhaps heads off the judgementalism in a slightly different way, but nevertheless has the same effect.

It may have elements of self-pity in the lyrics, with Sick Dogs line about simply wanting to wallow in his own guilt being a prime example, but the ferocity of the delivery brings such venom to the sentiment that it doesn’t feel much like self-indulgent navel-gazing. It does get a bit intense at times, tipping just over into shrieking at times, like the rather annoying tail end of Infinite Power, but mostly it’s comfortably on the right side of that particular line.

Sick Dogs and the two which follow, Purity of Heart and This Morning, are maybe the ones which took me beyond the aesthetic and the intensity of the delivery into the tunes themselves, for there are pop songs here, buried beneath the apoplexy.

I didn’t think so at first – I basically just heard the attitude and the way it is spat out – but this is a fantastic album. Headphones and three hours at Heathrow fucking airport can have a really good effect on your ability to take proper time to let an album sink in. And this album is most definitely worth taking the time with.

Tags:
avatar

Hot Lunch – Drew Bought a Computer

hotlunch Yet more garage rock for me (irrespective of the actual presence or otherwise of a real life garage in the making of this music), and I suppose me liking this album is going to surprise absolutely no-one, but ummm… well it’s really good, so you should have a listen.

The band apparently broke up several years ago, but these recordings are only now making their way onto Bandcamp so for me they’re basically new releases.

The internet may often be criticised for providing us with a near-infinite ‘long tail’ of shit which no-one will ever listen to or ever even notice is there. Technically I suppose this would be covered by that, as would a fair bit of the stuff we release ourselves, but one man’s irrelevance is another man’s undiscovered gem, and this is why I love the internet sometimes.

I’d hesitate to call this experimental, although it meanders all over the place and seems to care pretty much nil for traditional song structures or even emotional arcs. It’s more… carefree. It just heads off in whatever direction it pleases and stops when it’s done.

You might not even call this an album really, in the sense that it doesn’t feel like it has much of a purpose beyond to indulge the whims of its creators. That might be a weakness, but it feels like it is also one of its best features to me. That playfulness rather obviates the need for any more structure – it’s the raison d’être of the album all by itself, and if you want to follow where it is going, then you simply have to embrace it.

There will be times when you wonder what the fuck they’re getting at I suppose, such as the stumbling, distracted intro to (Here Comes) the Rounded One, although the song does get itself together by the end. Sort of.

Instrumental opener The Secret of the Ooze is a bit more focussed, and it may be a bit off, but the guitar licks in that song are fantastic.

I suppose this is distracted, kind of psychedelic garage rock, and it’s the distractions which will either make it special to you or turn you off the album completely. Personally, I think it’s fucking ace.

avatar

Body Cheetah & Messed Up Coyote – Clang

Clang Having first discovered Body Cheetah only a few days ago, I ended up browsing the Bandcamp page of their label, Woozy Tribe, and amongst the other excellent stuff I found was this.

The fact that two bands called Body Cheetah and Messed Up Coyote ended up making a record together sounds almost like the sort of one-dimensional logic which pairs Facebook users with the ads on the site (uh, y’all like animals, right?), but whoever put these two together and why, they did a very fine thing.

This could almost be early-noughties edgy high school movie-friendly pop music, but if it is then there is something deeply wrong with it. It is almost like someone was asked to write music for that kind of film by someone they deeply disliked, so they’ve put a lot of the right elements in there and then taken to the surface of everything with a fucking hammer, leaving it all twisted and smashed, but still demonically rasping away like a talking doll which refuses to die.

For people like me, of course, this deliberate obfuscation nudges the music squarely into the territory of being very much my kind of thing. The beats are slow, but they are there and the arrive with plenty of emphasis and just a touch of malevolence.

It’s definitely insistent and aggressive, but more in the way of glaringly menacingly at you from the end of the bar, rather than getting right up in your face. It just sneers and snarls, but not in the guitar-bass-drums way I tend to listen to, but smothered in electronic effects, and beats l suppose you’d call kinda trip-hoppy*.

I’ve almost liked a lot of music in this sort of vein, but I have to confess this is probably the first time I’ve just thought ‘fuck yeah, this is what I was hoping for’.

*They used that term on their Bandcamp page – as you know, I wouldn’t know Trip Hop if a bunny rabbit offered me acid.

avatar

Alex G – Trick

alexgtrick This album was released two years ago on a now-defunct record label, but you can still find copies here if you want. I only just happened across it myself, so I am decreeing it entirely new for the purposes of Toad, just in case me writing about slightly old music bothers you at all.

I always assume people who describe their music in as half-arsed a fashion as this (“pop dick fuck hot nice pussy shit xxx Philadelphia”) are just bedroom noodlers with little or no interest in getting their music out there, but Alex Giannascoli has done pretty well at getting noticed by some very credible people indeed. I suppose I should learn not to judge the artist by the front presented by their aesthetic.

Admittedly this can get a bit soft around the edges at times – something of a Diet Eliot Smith on tracks like Forever if I was to be purposefully harsh about it – but for the most part this is, if not eccentric, a distinct take on a familiar format. It’s slacker bedroom pop, with a bit of thrum going on, but it feels like its own animal.

You don’t get hooks here per se, more shifts and diversions which repeat and then change, more like a flock of birds than anything else – you can never be sure if you’ll get an endlessly repeating pattern or a sudden dart towards somewhere different. It feels airy and light too, as a record.

So having finally found this one, I see Alex has a new album out, which you can buy here, and reviews from the Quietus and fucking Pitchfork as well. Boy is my finger ever not on the pulse these days.

Tags:
avatar

S>C>R>A>P>S – O/s

scraps I actually happened across this Australian band called s>c>r>a>p>s (yes, that is the last time I am ever typing that fucking name out in full) by searching for another Australian band called Scraps, who happen to have an excellent record out at the moment on the fantastic Bedroom Suck label.

Instead, I found this scraps, and for all they are very much not what I was looking for, I really liked what I found. Another band with a flair for fucking with Bandcamp tags, this lot throw the terms ‘slow-dance romance, hypno-jog fantasy, top of the pops, granny porn, dick van dork and mary ploppins’ at the wall and, in all honesty, for the most part they all kinda stick to a degree.

The music is certainly hypnotic, in a slightly frantic sort of way. It has a manic energy which seems to be stretching the songs in all sort of directions, stumbling over trying to get them out fast enough to be able to move onto something else.

Then there are other times when it seems to just be wandering along as if it’s lost, the continuous rattle of the tinny beat the only thing holding such a loose collection of sounds together closely enough to refer to it as a song. Peeling Chestnuts doesn’t just feel barely-realised, it feels barely-conceived. The tiniest fragment of an idea just tottering along waiting to be forgotten or flung into proper existence, but managing neither.

Frankfurter Alle is underpinned by some gloriously foreboding organ, but You Won’t Miss Me is another skitterer, twitching around like a panicking house pet.

They can write gorgeous stuff when they want to though. Siri is fucking lovely, for example, and the strings lend it a sense of emotional weight which is welcome, and knowing that this kind of thing could emerge at any point almost makes the more frantic moments all the more tantalising.

It’s as if you’ve glimpsed the perch, the pose and the plumage, but for now the damn bird insists on flapping around the room in a deranged panic, steadfastly refusing to either sit still or to find the open window and escape back to where it belongs.

A weird record, and a complete accident, but in between the baffling moments there is some great stuff here.

Tags:
avatar

Body Cheetah – Raking the Wind

bodycheetah I think I happened across this on Tumblr by accident a little while ago. It was described as beautifully weird, and you know me well enough by now to know that that pretty much means a guaranteed click from myself.

I don’t think my taste in music is really challengingly odd, of course, but I do prefer things with just a hint of weird in them somewhere. It’s like garlic – it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but it’s tough to do anything interesting without it.

As more and more excited musicians have plied me with increasingly weird shit over the years I have to confess I think I’ve lost track of what a normal person might consider to be weird music.

There’s certainly something rather unnerving about one of the loveliest songs on the album being called Banging My Head Against the Dresser.

In general though, this doesn’t seem all that weird to me. The guitars kind of whoosh around you, lurching a little as they go. Piano parts meander about considering aimlessness for a bit before sorting themselves out. But all in all in amongst the delay and the slightly incongruous beats, this is a rather lovely record.

The vocals are possibly the weirdest part, I suppose. They seem almost like samples being chopped up, layered and played back, occasionally at the wrong speed. It’s not stuff we’ve never come across before, but the contrast of the unsettling vocal flights of fancy and the staccato, off time percussive sounds gives this a strange atmosphere.

It doesn’t seem to know if it’s an ethereal album of dreamy, treated vocals or a choppy one of off-rhythms and awkward percussion. It took a while for the two to blend together in my head I must confess. I found the discordance a little distracting, but once I settled into it I began to really like this album.

It is odd, I think. Having taken ages to decide, I think it definitely is. And that’s a good thing. Get a digital copy here; there doesn’t appear to be a physical release.

 

avatar

Powerdove – Arrest

powerdove Annie Lewandowski has written two (well three, it turns out now) of the best albums of the last five years. Generally that would cause me to make a slightly huffy remark or two about people being fucking idiots, but honestly, after three albums you’d think the world would have caught up by now.

When you’re a bit of a music idiot that kind of thing starts out as frustrating and slowly but surely becomes deeply annoying. One overlooked release can be put down to an accident. Three and the world clearly has some sort of fucking problem. Alright, so this isn’t pop music exactly. In fact, it isn’t pop music at all, really, but despite the utter weirdness and occasional hostility of the arrangements, the songs really are just beautiful.

Lewandowski has re-recorded a couple of tunes from her (brilliant) first album here, and for all she has progressed massively since then, the mix of beauty and agitated discomfort remain constant.

On Be Mine (the album) the backing was as minimal as it gets, but still managed to be unsettling and peculiar. On this there are nice tunes – After Dark for example – but again most of the backing music is incongruously frantic (Weeping Willow) or just downright unwelcoming and unsettling.

The most obvious example of this is the opening track When You’re Near, with its bursts of discordant noise, like a set of bagpipes being malevolently stamped upon, inbetween each burst of clear, lovely singing. It’s great and awful at the same time, and a hell of a song to open an album with. It’s almost like she’s daring us to dislike her stuff, with the comfort that if you can get through this the rest of the album will be just a little bit gentler.

And it is, I suppose, although the building blocks of the songs are rarely less than unusual. It’s incredible that I can listen to an artist whose work I know this well and still find the album shocking and in need of a bit of adjustment time before I can settle into it though. And the world is busy listening to fucking tepid, lifeless idiots peddling diluted electropop with just enough vaseline on the lens to make it seem wistful and enigmatic, when in truth it’s just fucking boring. People are fucking idiots, they really are.

Hooray for French label Murailles though, because as well as this and Powerdove’s first album they are also working with the fantastic Pillars and Tongues. And I didn’t even know this album existed until a week or so ago, too. Just goes to show that putting a bit of thought and effort into the music you listen to is hugely, hugely worth it sometimes.

Tags:
avatar

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils From The Sea

PerilsFromTheSea I am almost a complete Mark Kozelek ignoramus, and I suppose you can probably tell that from the fact that I am only now writing about an album released over a year and a half ago.  At least I know that I like his music – what I’ve heard at least. All I can tell you about Jimmy Lavalle is that he is one of the founding members of The Album Leaf, a band I know the sum total of notafuckingthing about.

Given my music taste it feels like I should really know these guys pretty well, but I don’t, and the only reason I even know about this album at all is from driving Meursault on tour in the States earlier in the year, where Neil kept insisting how fantastic the album was and that I should listen to it.

And so I did. And it turns out he’s right. Not that I ever doubted him of course*.

Gustavo (below) is the song I was first pointed to: a wonderfully specific-yet-vague tune about an illegal immigrant who worked on Kozelek’s house.  The moral ambiguity of the song is what Neil says he loves about Kozelek’s songwriting, and his willingness to accept the role of the bad guy and avoid self-justification when telling tricky tales.

Since then the infamous War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock has emerged and with it the widespread acceptance that Kozelek is a bit of a ‘difficult character’ at times, and I suppose that sort of chimes. If he was a difficult character bathed in self-righteousness then I guess he’d probably have killed his own career by now, but this kind of unflinching acceptance may just about diffuse it enough. Plus, I suppose, his music is fucking gorgeous.

Ceiling Gazing is absolutely lovely, a jet-lagged internal ramble full of pathos and warmth and weird sense of dislocation. It’s not unlike Lost in Translation actually, although that’s a bit of a glib comparison. It’s not alone here either. Caroline is fucking gorgeous too. Actually, they pretty much all are.

The warmth is a permanent feature of the album. Kozelek’s vocal is as distinctive, unhurried and reassuring as ever, and it is accompanied by relatively simple electronic melodies and a little bit of drum machine. It sounds a bit like an omnichord to me, and that is one of my favourite instruments, although I am hardly an expert in pulling apart musical arrangements.

The simplicity means there is a definite uniformity of tone across this – it feels very much like a late-night album for dark evenings, and writing this on exactly such an evening that feels about right. The beat means it’s not exactly morose all of the time, just low key. Low key and absolutely lovely.

Kozelek generally only releases on CD unfortunately, and you can get one here. Damn I wish it was on vinyl.

*Of course I doubted him. The man’s a fucking liability for fuck’s sake.

avatar

Old Earth – A Wake in the Wells

oldearth Old Earth have been something of a favourite around these parts for some time now. We recorded a Toad Session with Todd a year or two ago when he and his girlfriend came over to Scotland, and I spent most of the recent Edinburgh Independent Label Market enthusiastically encouraging people to buy his album from the neighbouring stall, rather than attempting to hawk my own wares.

It’s bloody fantastic stuff though. This album perhaps reminds me more of the feel of the Toad Session, with jangly guitars quite prominent and the buzzy soundscapes perhaps more sparingly embraced.

Todd is pretty clear on how he wants his music to be listened to, and does more than most bands I know to gently but firmly coerce you into a certain manner of interaction. Songs often have no gaps between them, often joined by long, overlapping musical interludes, and it’s not uncommon for three separate songs to be contained in a single track. The songs on this album don’t even have names of their own.

Umhoefer’s rationale is that he is not making pop music. It could be perceived as a rather snotty approach, and I suppose I’d have to accept that interpretation, but I still rather like his way of thinking. None of us are getting rich doing this, so if there isn’t a financial imperative and you don’t have other people’s salaries to pay, then surely the only question to ask yourself is exactly what sort of work you want to put out into the world.

For Todd, that’s a little over half an hour of music which belongs together as a single piece, and which works best when embraced as such. Why should he pander to the requirement of the single, discreet two-and-a-half-minute pop song if that’s fundamentally not what he is trying to do. There are pop songs there, but they emerge from a sort of ground zero atmospheric thrum which seems to undulate through the background of the whole record as a sort of general mood in which the entire thing exists.

It’s like the background of traffic, footfall and chatter which exists all around us in our home towns – it’s just part of the world we are inhabiting, and within that world certain things are off in the distance and others come more sharply into focus when you engage with them. It’s not a revolutionary way of making music, but the clarity of vision and unconcerned determination with which Todd sticks to his ideas are both things I really admire. Plus, of course, it’s a great fucking record.

Get one here on vinyl or digital.

avatar

Becky Becky – Good Morning, Midnight

becky It’s rare that I write about synthy discopop really, but I suppose that’s because most of it leaves me pretty cold. Silver Columns stick in my head as the last time I properly got enthusiastic about this kind of stuff I suppose, and that was fucking ages ago.

It’s an interesting connection though, because Pete (one half of Becky Becky) released some bits and pieces on Fence Records years ago under the name of Art Pedro. It was ramshackle as fuck, but I loved it, and he actually emailed me about this project years ago but I have to confess I never quite got into it.

The other half of the band is Gemma from the now-retired Woodpecker Wooliams project, and perhaps it was her odd but hugely compelling voice which gave me something familiar to latch onto with the Becky Becky stuff. Well that and having it on casual rotation for a long while. Slowly this stuff creeps up on you, you know.

I am not sure why this stands out above all the other similar stuff I don’t like. Perhaps tunes like I Remember, I Remember… don’t try too hard to grab your attention, but succeed despite this. Maybe its the slight theatricality – tunes like The House of the Black Madonna for example. It’s dark without being dense or try-hard, and I suppose just moody and dismissive enough to not just fall into that ‘oh fuck, not another synth-pop album’ trap which so much of this stuff ends up in for me.

Gemma’s voice has a weird knack of being elusive, vulnerable and confrontational at the same time, and this meshes well with the music itself here, which can embrace full-on disco-pop cliché for a while and then subtly drift into something more muffled and odd. It’s like an image which drifts slightly out of focus during the very times you most want it to be clear.

You can get a copy on CD or mp3 from their Bandcamp page, here. It really does leave me wondering why I didn’t properly pay attention the first time.