Song, by Toad

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Five Years of Audio Antihero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

wytches I’ve played these guys on the podcast a couple of times already, and I’ve had the album for a while, but it seems to be one of these records where what I think of it yo-yos back and forth every time I listen to it. Sometimes I think it’s fearsomely fantastic, sometimes a bit chuggy and samey, and it doesn’t seem to depend on anything consistent I have been able to notice besides mere whim. Which I don’t like. I prefer to know what my opinions are and why I have them.

Gravedweller, for instance, has a baseline which could easily enough be straight out of Love Buzz. Get me in the right mood and I think ‘fucking brilliant, what a fantastic baseline’. The wrong mood and the similarity bugs me a little.

Generally I love the thumping intensity of this album. It’s psyche-rock (not in the way everything these days is fucking psyche-rock, this is actual psyche-rock) but it’s dark and heavy, and you just can’t really imagine them playing this at anything other than full pelt. There’s something about that heaviness which is a real gut-grabber, too. It makes you screw up your face and bunch fists and do a really aggressive pigeon-peck with your head.

I don’t mean to keep coming back to Bleach again, but there’s loads of it in here, meaning that more than a lot of the other psyche revivalists out there, but the result is that instead of just being a knock-off band with (in some cases admittedly) great tunes, these guys feel really fresh.

I fucking hate that word, particularly when used to describe new music; in fact I really hate it. But there’s life and sparkle to this which belies its relatively familiar recipe. There’s nothing new here really, and it can get a bit chuggy, so when I am in the wrong mood that bugs me a bit. But generally it’s just awesome.

I mean, as thrillingly wild songs go, the rest of the world is going to have to go some way to match Wire Frame Mattress this year. The other single Burn Out the Bruise has possibly had more radio play I think, and is a cracking song in its own right, but Mattress is just fucking great.

Again, the recipe is relatively simple – guitar, bass and drums with some pretty familiar effects pedals – but it’s all played with purpose and energy. There’s a sort of reckless abandon here which is utterly absent from pretty much any band who are described as ‘bringing back guitar music’.

Royal Blood, for example, when they hear this, should give pretty serious consideration to retiring immediately out of sheer embarrassment. Not every tune here is brilliant, but ‘guitar revival’ bands seem to all sound so leaden, whereas this is loose, brilliant fun and played with gleeful malevolence.

Also, if anyone buys one from Heavenly, which you can do here, can you please let me know where to go to validate my download code. I bought the damn thing in a shop and got a card with a code, but no clue as to where to redeem it.

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Water World – WWII

ww2 I’ve  been a while waiting to review this album, and I think part of that is a lack of access to the medium which allowed me to get so thoroughly into the band’s previous, brilliant album Water Bird.

The tape player in my car is broken, so unlike the last album, which seemed to spend an age going round and round and round on the way to work, this one is forever getting played while I’m sitting at my desk working. And I tend to lost concentration.

You could call that a criticism of the album, I suppose, and suggest that a great record would cut through whatever you were doing, but it really isn’t the case. Working is great for casual listening, but not for actually figuring out it something is good or not.

Having said that, over weeks of listening to this regularly when I got the chance, an album which didn’t really grab me at first has slowly filtered in and I am now really enjoying this.

As with the last one, I am genuinely unsure quite what makes this stand out from all the lo-fi guitar pop out there, but it does, once it’s sunk in properly. And I suppose it goes back to the old friends of riffs and melody. This is just pop music, and despite a rather scruffy exterior, it’s really good.

Cream Soda, the instrumental Sneaky Pete, Enough… there are loads of songs on here I just find myself humming along to, and with a pop record that’s about as much as you can ask for. Another great release by Life Dunk International – get it on CD, tape or download here.

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Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy

frankiec I can’t remember who introduced me to Frankie Cosmos first, but I think it might have been Phil from PAWS. As I have said a million times before, keep an eye on your favourite bands’ social media feeds as their recommendations will often be far better than we self-appointed guardians of good taste.

I am a long way from an expert on her output, but I think this is Frankie Cosmos’ first recording with a band, and whilst that might be a slight culture shock for long-term fans of her work, but for us neophytes it sounds absolutely great.

You get a lot of awkward, lo-fi introspection which seems prevalent in her other material (which I confess I have only skimmed so far), but then she seems to channel early Wave Pictures at other times, with a sort of ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll sound which, for all it feels about to fall to pieces at any point, has real force and strength.

Owen, below, is absolute stormer. The kind of impact you can suddenly make with an increase in instrumentation and numbers, but nevertheless still minimal and not in any way overdone or detrimental to the core charm of Frankie’s delivery.

Buses Splash With Rain comes next, and embraces a sort of rough, nineties-inspired guitar pop sound. It’s loose and charming, and perhaps shows how this album, for all its inward-facing interior monologue, retains a sense of lightness and affability. It’s not all entirely my cuppa, I guess, and perhaps Leonie isn’t really for me, but in general it is a (very) short, sharp splash of personal, personable lo-fi pop music.

You can find the CD and LP links and listen to the whole thing on her Bandcamp page. Zentropy is so short it’s in the same territory as The Leg and their 22-minute albums, but it’s ten songs long, so it counts. Besides, it’s well worth it, short or not.

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Das Hobos – This is the Place

Considering I was raised in a German-speaking country, my relationship with music from Germany and Austria is actually pretty thin, although there are some interesting labels in Vienna these days for sure. Given the enthusiasm Germans seem to have for our releases on Song, by Toad Records I would have thought I would have found more stuff coming from that country that I really liked, but maybe I’ve just been lazy about digging it out.

I don’t tend to just copy and paste press releases, but it seems these guys are a bit less flowery and wheedling than their UK counterparts when it comes to writing this stuff, and this is pretty to the point:

“In Gute Hände (translated “in good hands”) is a young German vinyl and cassette label from Augsburg near Munich. We are trying to support regional and talented artists with their music. The idea is to provide a different feeling of music, music you can hold in your hands, with great and unique coverartworks.

“Since last friday 166 limited and unique vinyl are available at In Gute Hände. On September 5th Das Hobos released their new LP this is the place. Each cover is created by the artist James „Sus“ Sutherland during an exceptional event of painting and music performance.”

Watching the video above you can see how nicely they’ve executed this idea. The individually painted covers look amazing, and the music itself is really really good as well. It’s a sort of experimental pop, with a kind of rhythmically woozy ambient flavour to it – the kind of stuff which the chillout era of the early noughties was desperately crying out for – music that is laid back and relaxing, but still interesting and engaging.

You can buy a copy here, and they aren’t cheap, but you’re talking about an individual piece of hand-made artwork, which is a beautiful approach to releasing records. It’s something we’re looking at as well, as making short runs of really nice things appeals to me a lot more than what is effectively a bare-bones imitation of major label PR processes, which it’s all to easy to get sucked into.

Anyhow, this is a really good album. It is experimental, but not in an abrasive way, and ambient but not in a dull way, and I really recommend it. And have a look at other stuff the label is involved with too, as I’ve just had a listen to some stuff and it really is an eclectic collection of music.

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808s and Greatest Hits – Featuring A. Fantastic Reprise

808s The internet pisses me off sometimes. Well not the internet, I suppose, but the constant reminder that the world is WRONG about more or less everything. It was wrong about nationhood on Thursday, and today is WRONG about music. Again.

How the fuck else would this awesome album simply be sitting up on the internet for free, whilst the idiots of the world go mental for the new Alt-J crap, or fucking Royal Blood, or pretty much anything labelled ‘psychedelic’ by PR folk desperate to cash in on the latest internet musical buzz word. But then, I suppose this fundamental disagreement with everyone is why I started the blog in the first place.

I am not going to mention psychedelic here because FUCKMEOMGLIKESOPSYCHEDUDE!!!1!  I suppose I might call it epic, lo-fi experimental pop, if I were looking for a nice easy tag to hang round its neck in the shop window.

It’s not hesitant, like most lo-fi experimental pop I tend to happen across. It’s dreamy, I suppose, but more of a bad dream than anything else – or at least a really rather uneasy one. The vocals are muffled and reverby, and the guitars buried below washes of drone, punctuated by the odd plonk from the piano.

808s and Greatest Hits is in fact just the work of one person who goes by the somewhat enigmatic name of Vielle Flame, and the album was recorded in his bedroom in Melbourne over the course of the last four years. Admittedly, it isn’t packed full of massively immediate pop tunes, but it certainly has something of that slop rock wooziness that fans of a deconstructed Mac DeMarco might be into.

I know I’m not supposed to call it that, but whatever the general term is that everyone else uses for slop rock, it’s a style I’ve heard a lot of over the last few years and I am very much liking it. Listen to the whole album on Bandcamp where you can download it for whatever you want to pay.

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Memory in Plant – An Epic Triumph

a0614636022_2 I have to confess that when I see terms like ‘multi-genre’ in a press release I tend to tune out, not because the idea of genre-spanning music turns me off, more because it is hugely over-used in press releases and tends to refer to a horrendous blend of tedious RnB, pop, a bit of World Music, and often someone singing really amazingly just to show that despite their ostentatiously wild and eclectic tastes, they really do just appreciate all good music. It’s awful, mostly.

Memory In Plant are from Israel, however, so it would be ludicrous of me to apply my annoyance at UK PR clichés to them.

And the album is fucking ace. It’s experimental psychedelic pop music, I suppose, if you’re looking for a glib attempt at genre description. And it is weird. And there are times I am not sure about it, I suppose, such as the moments during Eyes Up where it flirts with shouty American guitar music, which I generally dislike. It’s a brief moment though, and tempered by the fantastic oddness going on around it a brief excursion into something more conventional doesn’t hurt at all.

Generally when people use opera singers in music like this is pretty terrible too – a sort of pretentious attempt to show that they are cultured and open-minded and just because they’re breaking down all the walls, they still appreciate fine things. Here, on Rain Veins, it’s nothing of the sort. The operatic vocal is treated in just as distorted and cosmic a way as everything else – simply another sound that they love, and want to play with.

What I love about this is the fact that there are so many different sounds in here. There are all sorts of sounds I wouldn’t normally like, loads I love and plenty more I am just not used to listening to, and the way they’ve been smooshed together into one big, messy, weird, and yet oddly coherent whole really is masterful. How I found music this strange so instantly accessible that it went from my inbox to the blog in about ten minutes is truly baffling, and seriously impressive.

Music like this is why I started a label, I suppose. While the hipster world is going crazy for utterly uninspired, tepid, rehashed garbage like Haim and Royal Blood (Royal fucking Blood for fuck’s sake, what the fuck has happened to us?) these guys are having to give away their album for free on Bandcamp. The world is backwards.

In a genuinely crowded field, these guys seem to have managed to create something actually different for a change. It’s weird as fuck, but I got into it immediately. It’s experimental, but has flavours of rock and electronica, which blend seamlessly with soundscapes and even the dreaded ‘international pop’. I don’t know what the fuck it is they’ve actually done here, but they’ve done it joyously well.

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Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

CVG_ShrinkDustLPJacket_Working Well this is apparently not his best album by any means – so say my Chad VanGaalen-loving friends at least. Funnily enough, though, this is actually the first of his albums I’ve actually sat down with properly and listened through to and my perspective is probably a bit different from theirs.

I’ve heard the name around for ages, of course, although actually he’s only been releasing albums as long as I’ve been back in Scotland (although that’s probably a far longer time than I care to admit). Even this album has been out for months now, I just got it late because I ordered it with a bunch of other things and rather foolishly selected the ‘ship when everything is ready’ option.

I’ve only listened back to his older stuff very briefly since getting this, and I suppose this does sound a bit smoother and less awkward than some of the earlier recordings. Normally I would complain about this, but I haven’t really had time to listen to the older albums properly so I don’t have that slightly weird allegiance which is so easy to develop to earlier incarnations of someone’s sound.

The only reason I bought this album, actually, is because Meursault did an absolutely brilliant cover of Rabid Bits of Time on their last release, The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, and so when I saw this was coming out I thought fuck it, why not have a go.

And fuck the purists, this is brilliant. I suppose I had no real expectations (apart from a curious half-idea that it might be a bit like Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, which is total balls) so I guess I was listening with a pretty blank slate, which is often quite a hard thing to achieve.

At times this embraces lo-fi singer-songwriter stuff, but there is plenty more to come and go, moving the album around nicely. It can be glum and morose, it can be droney and bit unpleasant, and Leaning on Bells is a raucous, old-fashioned garage rocker. But then some of the most euphoric songs have this gorgeous choral feel in the, erm, well in the choruses, and it allows the record to drift from tense, to introspective, to grumbly, and yet still be able to lift itself into something supremely uplifting and lovely here and there when it wants to.

The fact that the chorus of one of these beautifully uplifting tunes is simply “I’m a monster” is something I’ll just gloss over, I think. Weighted Sin is another song which sounds absolutely gorgeous but tells a tale of rather brutal self-judgment. I know from Rabid Bits of Time not to expect breezy, trivial lyrics, I suppose, and I think I need a bit more time to settle into every song on the album in that sense, but it’s something I will certainly be taking the time to do.

It may take a bit more attention lyrically, but in a musical sense this is far more immediate. Whilst the old fans might find it displeasingly smooth compared to past work (at least, I am guessing that’s what they’re unimpressed with – I can’t think of anything else), for me that made it easier to get into. Hell, there’s even clarinet in the first song, in amongst the disturbed swirling of, well, whatever it is making that noise.

Compared to my thus-far superficial skims through earlier stuff, it doesn’t, I suppose, have that sense of aggravation. I mean, that’s still there, but the music seems fuller and less hesitant and unsure of itself, which perhaps makes this feel a little more purposeful and accessible, but I guess I’ll know more when I go back and listen properly. For now I am perfectly happy getting to know Shrink Dust entirely on its own merits, because it’s a fantastic album. It doesn’t exactly scare you, and it’s not bleak or miserable exactly, but there is plenty of that in there, and the mixture of this stuff and the gentler, more soothing stuff keeps you on your toes throughout.

So, if it’s apparently not his best album, I think I’m going to have some fun finding out which one is!

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Beck – Morning Phase

Beck_Morning_Phase Okay, first things first, despite some initial confusion it turns out I am no more than a very occasional Beck fan. You know what I mean: I kept hearing good things about him, bought one album which I thought was fucking incredible, and then kept buying disappointment after disappointment in the mistaken belief that I was a huge fan. Turns out I’m not.

The album I absolutely love is Mutations. I did from pretty much first listen, and I still do. Midnight Vultures has some decent stuff on it, I like moments here and there on Guero, and I guess Sea Change is almost all excellent. I’ve been told that some of his really early, really rough stuff is absolutely great too, but I’ve never made time to listen to it (One Foot in the Grave and earlier, I think). So, you know, two albums out of fucking loads and loads isn’t particularly good odds, but I do like those two albums an awful lot.

Sea Change is the one which gets referenced a lot when Morning Phase comes up, and I suppose it’s a mostly-valid comparison. The sound is very similar, I suppose, but I am not sure that the feeling I get from the album is all that comparable.

What do I mean by that? Well, as I said, the overall sound is quite similar; pace, instrumentation, vocal delivery, intensity – all that stuff seems pretty similar across the two records. What’s different, though, is the overall emotion which seems to drive the songs themselves. Sea Change is an overwhelmingly sad album. It sounds defeated and heartbroken, and this just doesn’t. It maybe sounds exhausted in a way, or burned out. I dunno. It’s mellow, but it sounds like shit is just fine.

To put it another way, I would listen to Sea Change if I was devastated about something and wanted to lose myself in that feeling. I would listen to this with a glass of wine in the evening when I was having a cuddle on the couch with Mrs. Toad. If you wanted to be unbelievably snide, you could very easily dismiss this as easy listening music for ageing, middle class, ex-hipsters.

Ouch. I know. But then, I really like it. I am, after all, an ageing, middle class, ex-hipster. Or maybe an ageing, middle class, aspiring hipster. This is music which is relaxed and warm. It feels nice. It feels comforting, it’s hummable, it’s like the aforementioned glass of wine in the evening. Or maybe a cup of tea on Sunday afternoon.

That’s about as well as I can do, actually. It sounds like a massive insult, but this album is just enormously pleasant to listen to – not in a dismissably inoffensive way, but in a wonderfully enriching way. And while it’s not quite as compellingly brilliant as Sea Change or Mutations, I think it’s probably my third-favourite Beck album. Until I properly explore that really nasty early stuff of course.

Buy from Amazon.

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Adam Faucett – Blind Water Finds Blind Water

adfaucAdam Faucett is someone who we discovered on Meursault’s March tour of the States, after SXSW. He played with the band at Boone in North Carolina, which sounds hugely unpromising, but was actually just about the best show of the tour, give or take.

On the bill that night were Adam and his band, and fucking hell they were good. So much beard. Such glaring! They were lovely guys actually, but the sheer volume of facial hair still made them look really intimidating.

I don’t know if you saw Meursault much before their last ever show at the Queen’s Hall last month, or if you’ve seen Neil play solo recently, but if you have then you might well have noticed Day Drinker from this album featuring pretty regularly in his set ever since.

Listening to the album immediately after the show was a bit of a surprise, I have to say. On stage the band were fucking fierce, and Faucett himself was playing a Fender amp which was failing, but in a way which only made everything sound more nasty and awesome. The album is a lot smoother, for starters, but also more dominated by slower, more pensive songs, and that took a little getting used to after such a brilliantly ferile set.

They’re great though, those quieter songs. Not what I was expecting, but really good nevertheless. Day Drinker, for example, is a particularly unflinching tale. Walking Home Late is a brilliant wee song as well: reflective and a little maudlin. Poet Song is another one.

I suppose in some ways this album’s problem is one of it’s greatest triumphs: Melanie, the second song, is such an awesome beast of a swaggering, Southern rock song that you can be fooled into spending the rest of the album waiting for the next one, and it doesn’t really come. I think that’s what happened to me when I first heard the album too. Live, Melanie had produced that moment of ‘holy shit, who the fuck are these guys‘ and I sort of expected that to be the album I heard.

And it’s just not. Faucett is actually an really talented painter of pictures. Melanie is one of those pictures just as much as Walking Home Late, so actually the two songs have way more in common than you would think, despite being musically very different. So I went into this record thinking ‘big, nasty, snarling riffs’ and slowly realised that it’s one to be played with whisky and properly listened to, not one to throw on when you want to bounce around doing air punches.

It’s just come out on vinyl too, and mine just arrived, which is what prompted me to write about it. Seriously, if you’re tempted, just fucking do it!

And here’s Day Drinker. The sound on the video is pretty rotten, but hopefully the song itself still comes across properly: