Song, by Toad

Archive for the Reviews category

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Dearness – Accidental Gold

dearness  Ah, lo-fi tape releases. Hooray for the internet. Funny that something so ephemeral should have ended up encouraging something so very string-and-brown-paper, but it seems to have. If anything, I think the lack of actual need for a physical product has reminded a small group of people why they actually want one.

There are reasons this is a relatively small DIY release, I think, and two of the main ones are ‘other bands’. Ryan Drever also plays in PAWS and in Garden of Elks, whose debut album we will be releasing here at Song, by Toad Records in a couple of months, and I guess that almost automatically means he has to limit the amount of energy he puts into his own stuff.

It’s good though, if somewhat unassuming. On first listen I thought no more than ‘oh, this is decent’, but repeated listens have significantly improved that somewhat lazy first impression. There are elements of meandering bedroom lo-fi here, with songs so unfocussed that they feel like the very most slack of the slacker end of the spectrum. Less that halfway into Accidental Gold you find Frank Devereaux, which is distant, muffled and minimal. Then you get into Stationary Waves and it feels like everything is kind of grinding to a premature halt.

That song is basically just a long, rambling monologue over the top of a background of incidental music that feels like the EP is drowning in its own fuzz and mumble. But then it suddenly springs into life, with what is basically just a big old riffy pop song, called It’s OK, You’re Fine.

Second-last seems like an odd place to put what is closest to your ‘big pop song’, but it throws everything which has gone before it into sharp relief. Closer Nobody Knows (What the Fuck They’re Talking About) is upbeat again, with what sounds like distorted fragments of TV or radio broadcasts interspersed with classic, direct, fuzzy indie rock. It’s nasty, but it has real drive and pace and is a great way to end everything.

As I said, this sudden burst of energy changes how everything before it feels, and what seemed like a weird, distracted meander suddenly turns out to be a really well-assembled collection of rough and ready songs – enough pop to be fairly instantly engaging and enough experimental nastiness to be really interesting. I don’t love Roads + Rails particularly – I am not sure the way it’s sung particularly suits Ryan’s voice – but that’s a pretty small gripe because for the most part this is really good. And there are only a couple left too, so get one quick if you want one.

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That Ghost – Unthemes (Rarities 2008-2014)

a1202260336_2 I’ve written about That Ghost plenty of times in the past, but never had much impression that the band were taking off.

That can happen in the internet age, of course. They are based in California, I am some random jackass in Scotland, so I have no idea how much traction they’re achieving amongst their local audience, but Ryan is now retiring the That Ghost name, so I guess they never quite achieved what I think they should have.

As either a swansong or a simple requiem, this new release is just a collection of unreleased bits and pieces, and judging from the title one which is more of a pile of songs rather than anything with too much purpose or coherence.

If you’re a fan of the band, however, then it’s nice to hear. I last wrote about them over two years ago, but I have always liked their stuff. Ryan will be going on to do new things of course, but I am still glad he has enough time for his old project to release these songs into the world.

That Ghost actually largely pre-date the lo-fi enthusiasm, but the treated vocals and tinny drums sit roughly in that territory, although the songs don’t really have the venom of a lot bands you’d call lo-fi. It’s not nasty like a lot of the punk-influenced stuff, or woozy like a lot of the chillwave movement and its antecedents, but it has elements of both of these things, and an unhurried pace of its own.

It’s always a bit sad when a band you like ceases to exist, but fuck it, this is really good and despite not being a proper album, so to speak, is still a really fitting epitaph for a band which may not have revolutionised anything, but which were still pretty fucking excellent at what they did.

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Rave With Satan – Jesus Fucked Me Raw

Screenshot 2015-02-05 01.48.29 By the time you read the title of this you already know this is going to be one of those posts, don’t you. Jesus did what? How mean of him.

I have really no idea if I think this is actually good, or if it’s just fascinating. I remember reading the introductory email, and wondering what the fuck I was in for.

That email went like this:

“My dad was a notable boxer and drug dealer who overdosed (revealed to me Thanksgiving 2013 by a family friend not family) when I was two years old. With no real father figure to guide me, I was forced to try to fit in with everyone.

“White people referred to me as a spic, weirdo and made fun of my last name in Catholic School / middle class Philadelphia.

“Film School overlooked me and called me cliché.

“Blacks and Hispanics called me white and uncool when I entered the music scene (as a filmmaker) after graduating Temple University.

“My mother told me to stop acting like something I’m not when I finally gained self confidence.

“Companies won’t hire me because my three years of paying dues aren’t enough.

“Philadelphia refuses to spotlight up and coming artists that don’t follow trends.

“Publications put me in a box, as a writer, for trying to reveal the Philly talent that matters.

“Women stare at me only to awkwardly ignore my conversation.

“This all helped me develop this original, frustrated and spontaneous voice.”

See what I mean? That could basically be the precursor to pretty much anything. In the end the album turned out to be a series of disjointed rambles (Rant#1 – #4), acting as interludes between songs which only barely justify being placed in such a category.

Songs on this album are tinny artificial beats overlaid with vocals which sound like snippets from the interspersed monologues which are spinning away into the ether as you pass out from too much alcohol.

Weird phrases dance around – you can almost see them written in massive, comic sans captions distorting away from legibility as you try and focus on them. They aren’t songs, per se, but there is music involved, and this still feels like an album, even if I have no idea what the fuck is going on here.

Despite all this I am pretty sure this is good, in a way. I am not sure what way, and I doubt I have described it in a way which makes any sense at all, but weird as this is and as hostile and awkward as it is, there’s just something here that I am drawn to, fascinated by, and find myself compelled to listen to.

But you could still turn around tomorrow after I publish this and tell me that I’ve been pranked and I wouldn’t be overly surprised. Listen to it though – there’s definitely something here.

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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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