Song, by Toad

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Song, by Toad’s Albums of the Year 2014 1-5

n9068 Okay okay, before we get down to the serious business of 2015 (and there’s really rather a lot of that piling up already), I suppose I should clear the decks of one last thing before I can declare 2014 done and dusted and that is my favourite albums of the year list. I can only imagine how devastated the internet would be if I didn’t get this one finished.

As I explained in the post accompanying numbers 11 through 20, the list this year has fallen particular victim to the vagaries of real life, so it’s not really ‘The Very Best’ albums of the year, even just in my opinion, because I have found myself without the time to sit and really listen properly to vinyl for about  a third of the year.

Due to moving house, touring in the States, having our living room rebuilt and all sorts of other things some albums have been disproportionately favoured over others. This happens all the time anyway – sometimes things just don’t get a fair crack of the whip – but this year has been particularly bad.

Song, by Toad’s Best of 2014
1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20

So if you’re reading this and thinking ‘holy fuck, no Twilight Sad, no John Knox Sex Club, no Old Earth’ then it really is just because I haven’t found the time to listen to those albums (and plenty more) just yet. I am pretty certain that by the middle of 2015 I will have a fairly different perspective on the year just gone, but for now the usual disclaimer feels even more necessary than ever: don’t worry, I am not saying these are definitively the best albums of 2014, but given my rather unpredictable listening circumstances, these have ended up being my favourite.

Not that much in the top five will surprise you of course – I may have had a weird year, but I am still as predictable as ever!

1. Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams

This is a lush, weird, sleazy and gorgeous. Timber Timbre evolve fairly slowly, but go back four albums and the band sound nothing whatsoever like this. One of those rare moments where immaculate production and more involved arrangements seem like the absolute right thing for an album.

2. Powerdove – Arrest

One of those albums which very, very nearly squeaked under my radar this year, which I suppose is just one of the drawbacks of being on a small label – we just don’t have the personnel for exhaustive PR campaigns. Fortunately I happened across it a month or two ago, and balls on a stick is it gorgeous. So many abrasive noises and so much lovely stuff, all intermingled into one perfectly executed whole.

3. Micah P. Hinson – Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing

Given how barely Micah P. Hinson’s music changes from one record to the next I don’t really know why I never get bored of it. I don’t, though. In fact given his near omnipresence in my top five every time he releases an album, it would seem Hinson’s wild swings between intensely sad and intensely angry, with just a little bit of contemplation and playfulness mixed in here and there strikes a chord in me as reliably as a metronome.

4. David Thomas Broughton – UnAbleTo

David himself may be on our label, but given we didn’t release this ourselves I am giving myself an exemption from my usual rule of excluding anything we are directly involved in from these lists. Fuck it, this is amazing, and given David released the Juice Vocal Ensemble collaboration this year, as well as appearing on our latest Split 12″, and also has a triple – yes, triple – vinyl album ready to go for 2015 as well I marvel at the man’s productivity. Even more freeform than Powerdove, this is another one of those albums which veers from the absolutely gorgeous to the aggressively discordant, but that’s what makes it great.

5. Now Wakes the Sea – Bildungsroman

Another under-appreciated gem from pretty much my favourite non-Toad Scottish band at the moment. This isn’t all quite as slow or minimal as its predecessor, in fact there are some breezy, clattery, lo-fi pop songs in here, but that awkward screech is never too far away – it’s an album which teeters on the edge, but a band which is comfortable enough with this that they handle it with increasing confidence. Proof, if ever any more was needed, that Scotland is WRONG about music.

So there you go. I suppose, all my disclaimers at the top of the page notwithstanding, that this top five is just about the most inevitable of any list out there on the internet. You all know by now, if you read this site with any regularity, that I love all five of these bands and have done for ages. Still, not many of these, with the possible exception of Timber Timbre, seem to have made it onto a lot of other people’s lists so I hope that this wee nudge might encourage you to check them out.

And now… ON WITH 2015!

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Song, by Toad’s Albums of the Year 2014 6-10

trophy Welcome to the latest instalment in what must surely be the most hotly-anticipated of all of the end of year lists which thunder towards us as this time of year with all the unavoidable, wild-eyed hysteria of a flock of panicking sheep.

Actually, that’s maybe not fair, is it. Actually, I think I’ve probably missed the giddy peak of List Season by a good fortnight or so by this point, but I don’t mind that. I like to assemble this kind of thing in the shell-shocked quiet of the post-Christmas boozing, where as our initial wave of epic multi-day-hangovers starts to finally wane, it slowly starts to dawn on us that we’re about to have to do it all again at New Year’s.

Song, by Toad’s Best of 2014
1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20

Needless to say, this list is entirely objective and can be backed up with meticulous charts and graphs and is therefore the Definitive Truth of Music in 2014, and thou shalt hold no other lists before mine. Or something like that.

Alternatively, it might just turn out to be the random, incoherent bletherings of yet another keyboard warrior with too many opinions and too few people who give the tiniest fuck about them, but I’ll leave it up to you to choose which one.

6. Paws – Youth Culture Forever

It seems like a back-handed insult to their previous album to say that this represents a huge step forward for Paws. I loved their previous record, and we all knew they could write infectious yet affecting pop songs, but this is a fantastic album with all sorts of new directions on it – noise, drone, a bit of cello, some piano, plenty of nastiness and still the same knack for a singalong chorus. Cracking band, cracking album.

7. Malcolm Middleton and David Shrigley – Words and Music

It seems a bit unfair to rank this on a list of albums, because it feels kind of like it should be on a separate list all of its own. I don’t know how this will bear up over time, but the mix of horror, delight, fascination and just plain old bafflement which greeted my first listen to this deranged record of spoken-word charcoal-black absurdity was pretty much still there on the dozenth listen.

8. Myriam Gendron – Not So Deep as a Well

This is so, so simple. Just acoustic guitar with minimal embellishment and a beautiful, beautiful singing voice. It’s the kind of genre so well-populated that people can’t really bring anything new anymore, but albums like this nevertheless feel like wonderful new additions.

9. Adam Faucett – Blind Water Finds Blind Water

Half of this album could be my favourite record of the year. It’s a tad uneven, but while the classic Southern rock of Melanie is one of the best songs of the year, it’s the more contemplative tunes like Walking Home Late, Sparkman, Poet Song and Benton which make the middle bit of this album as good as anything else I’ve heard all year. Another one of those ‘why the fuck are they not more fucking famous’ moments.

10. Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

CVG acolytes have said that this, whilst good, is not his best album. It’s the first one I’ve really got into though, so I don’t come with the baggage of allegiance to previous recordings and to me it sounds absolutely fucking great.

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Song, by Toad’s Albums of the Year 2014 11-20

prize Welcome to Song, by Toad’s brief tuppence tossed into the swirling whirlpool of List Season. I know everyone writes these lists and mine isn’t exactly going to overthrow the status quo, but I think mine tends to be a little different, so I hope you’ll find it worthwhile. Most of the big sites are offering up pretty much what you’d expect, particularly the ones who collate votes from amongst their writers, which always tends to iron away the more interesting wrinkles.

In that sense, I think that if you can find the right person, then one person’s list is generally more interesting than an organisation’s list, just because the law of averages tends to push the more left-field (and therefore by my definition more interesting) choices out of the limelight. For me the aim of these lists is not to be definitively right – everyone who writes one is right by definition; we’re all just expressing our own favourites after all – but to find those surprise gems which have stuck with people over the course of the year despite little or no real exposure.

Song, by Toad’s Best of 2014
1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20

I don’t need another list telling me about those insipid fucking records by FKA Twigs or Alvvays or Woman’s Hour or War on Drugs or, God forbid, that fucking dismal Royal Blood album. I want someone like Tom from Gold Flake Paint to give me ten albums I know (even if I might disagree with some of them) and ten I’ve never heard of before so I can go exploring.

That said, this year’s end-of-year list on Song, by Toad is going to be far from complete. There are all sorts of albums you might reasonably expect to see on here – The Twilight Sad and John Knox Sex Club spring most obviously to mind – but I genuinely just haven’t had time to listen to them (and many others), what with the record player being out of commission for months while we had our living room sorted out, and with moving house, and being out of country for over two months in the course of the year.

So what you have instead is a weirdly skewed list of the albums I have enjoyed the most this year. No doubt in six months I will want to change it, once I come to terms with some of my more recent purchases which I just haven’t heard enough yet, but at this precise moment this is what 2014 was like for me, musically.

11. Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys

The better these guys get, the less people seem to talk about them which is… I dunno, odd, perverse, infuriating? Take your pick. Their grandiose, broad-vistaed, slightly US-leaning indie-rock gets better with each release and this new album is no exception.

12. Deathcats – All Hail Lubo

Surfy, psychey and garagey are pretty much my ideal combination of traits, and this album is all of these. Just enough pop tunes to be hummable as fuck and just enough nasty meandering to be weird and unpleasant. In a good way.

13. Krill – Lucky Leaves

Flat, nasal and very plain-vanilla in terms of its American indie rock style, but for some reason this has just grown and grown on me with every listen. There’s plenty of self-loathing and self-dissection, but it never gets as annoying as it can with other folk.

14. Sex Hands – Pleh

Short, sharp punchy rock songs about Friends. Yes, Friends the TV show. No, I have no idea why either. Doesn’t matter, because it works fantastically well, and they may be about virtually nothing at all, but every one of these tunes is great.

15. Michael Cera – True That

A meandering, shambolic mess which is barely an album at all, frankly. There are barely-conceived interludes, a cover song, some bits and pieces of this that and the other and yet for some reason the final result is a record which is great to listen to but for some weird reason makes me like Cera more as a person for having made it. Don’t ask how that makes sense, but it does.

16. Goat – Commune

Shamelessly anachronistic folk-tinged proggy psychedelia, but done with such hypnotic abandon that it stands head and shoulders above all the other people ploughing this particular furrow. Joyful and exuberant.

17. The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

This is an unbelievably simple formula, and far from a new one: short, sharp psyche-rock songs played with plenty of snarl and fantastically nasty guitars. Simple things done well can yield fantastic results.

18. Body Cheetah – Raking the Wind

I think I’ve heard a lot of people make music a bit like this, but for some reason this is the first time it’s all really, properly clicked for me. It’s ghostly and weird, but the beat keeps it from drifting off into the ether.

19. Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy

Simple, personal, engaging and lovely. If things like Juno were to be less smug and irritating they should try and be more like this, because that kind of underground smarts can be really nice when done with some subtlety and sincerity.

20. 808s and Greatest Hits – Featuring A. Fantastic Reprise

An album so DIY is exists only as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, which is a complete and utter fucking travesty. This is a fantastic, ambitious album of experimental psychedelic pop – and if you’ve had a shot every time I’ve used the words ‘psychedelic’ or ‘pop’ whilst reading this list I suspect you may need to have your stomach pumped by now.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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