Song, by Toad

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Grace Joyner – Young Fools

grace So I don’t like pop music eh, well what about this, you fuckers, what about this? Well I suppose it’s a counter-argument but only kind of. A lot of this is pretty damn morose, and needless to say those are my favourite bits. It does get pretty pop at times, such as Holy, and inevitably that is my least favourite song on the album, but most of this is really good.

Off the top of my head there are a few loose comparisons to give you a rough idea of the kind of territory we’re in here – some of that wounded glamour of Lana Del Rey, a horribly depressed cousin of Nicole Atkins, or perhaps a less affected Angel Olsen. None of these comparisons are that great, but they put you in roughly the right ballpark.

Although I don’t love any of those artists, there is definitely a bit of something in all of them that I like to varying extents, and I think Joyner comes closest to nailing it. This is old-fashioned, but still modern. The synths are moody without being prominent, and the drumming sounds like a drum machine (although looking at the photos it would appear the band do have a drummer).

I suppose, put simply, I prefer this because it is quite lo-fi and stripped back. I remember early Nicole Atkins, and how there was a sort of gloriously amateurish glamour to it.  Lana Del Rey’s album may have been a lifeless, embarrassing mess, but there was something incredible about the direct, unsettling feel of Video Games.  So of course Holy isn’t really my cup of tea, but I think Young Fools is fucking great: bitter and wounded, but fantastically light and elusive.

I’m sure it would be crap for her career to embrace the miserable, weird and the uncomfortable side of her music and move in the direction of the fantastic Powerdove or Lady Lazarus, but I reckon I would love the results. This EP teeters on the brink of either approach – pop or anti-pop –  and Joyner could do either. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and this may just be a digital release, but I am most curious too see what the future holds.

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Threes and Will & Huerequeque – Blue Thirteen

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I played a tune from this on the podcast last week, and I have been listening to it all week. It’s sort of nice that I have found an awesome Estonian band, give Tiit Kusnets on Klassikaraadio in Estonia plays our label stuff over there on such a regular basis.

It’s fair to say, I suppose, that this ain’t really pop music. It is full of harsh distorted amp tones and harsh growls with just the barest hints of the melody buried below, but there is just enough to make it actually eminently – can I really use this word for this kind of music? – ‘enjoyable’ to listen to.

This is being released on Blue Tapes. They are a label I don’t really know much about, but their site is beautiful, they seem really interesting and they have a LOT to say on the subject of releasing tapes as opposed to any other format. They seem to release a lot of experimental and abstract stuff, mixed with spoken word and, well, just interesting, weird shit.

The penultimate song, Hullumeelsuse Mägedes, is perhaps a little boomingly harsh, with it’s cycling, metallic guitar tone. I can see Mrs. Toad casting me slightly nervous looks as this one ground its way into it fourth or fifth minute. And because the guitars operate so low in the EQ spectrum the drums can sound a bit tinny as their low end is almost entirely absent, but for the most part, abrasive as it is, this is a bloody great listen.

The ongoing, persistent rumble of those guitars pretty much makes this worth listening to all by itself.

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BRAAINZZ – Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper

braainzz I’ve written about BRAAINZZ before. They’re weird as fuck, but they happen to be a really rather good band once you get used to all the vocoders and time-warping and general love for making you wonder if you’re listening to music that was made on purpose or entirely by accident when someone had Logic open and spilled a can of fizzy juice all over their computer.

It’s hard to argue with an album where Mrs. God plays cello though, if we’re being honest.

One of the things I like most about them is that in amongst all this perverse, messy nonsense, moments of clarity occasionally appear, just to remind you that this lot do genuinely know what they are doing, and all the weird elements of the music are as considered as any more conventional sounding tunes you’ll hear.

There’s a cracking Walkmen cover on here, for example, and while it doesn’t sound all that much like The Walkmen themselves, it’s actually pretty straight-edged by the standards of this lot. Needless to say, though, they descend into incomprehensible mess pretty much immediately afterwards, just in case you were in danger of getting the wrong idea.

Amazingly, with all these noises which border on the just plain silly, they seem to have a real flair for melancholy music. And actually it works pretty well. Even with the vocoder and the squeaks and the beeps.

Shroom folk. Wyrd pop. That’s what they call themselves. And, as they say, it sounds like nonsense but makes total sense once you listen to the music. I have no idea how or why this lot are good, but they really are.

Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper is their third EP and can be downloaded for free here.

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Allison Crutchfield – Lean In To It

lean You’ve heard me talk an awful lot about Kingfisher Bluez in the past- they released Adam Stafford’s album in North America, and released a Rick Redbeard single quite recently as well.

In fact I reckon if I were living in Vancouver (which a large part of me would love to) then Tim and I might well find ourselves squabbling over the same bands a lot of the time. They have a mind-bogglingly prolific release rate as well, and every time I go to their Bandcamp page it seems there are a small handful of new releases I’ve never heard of before.

One of the latest to go up there is this – a pre-order for an absolutely fantastic-sounding 12″ by Allison Crutchfield which will be available sometime just before Christmas. In other words, soon.

It’s lo-fi pop music, basically, with keyboards and drum machines fleshing out the sound, but most songs relying on relatively simple melodies not unlike the style of Casiotone For the Painfully Alone.

There’s plenty of gravel and distortion in the backing, but for all Allison’s voice is relatively low in the mix, it’s still clear and strong, which means this doesn’t just sound like yet another deliberately self-sabotaging lo-fi pop artist hiding behind their own effects – there is plenty of fuzz, but it is used with care and to really, really good effect.

I love a duet, and standout tunes for me would be the duet with Sam Cook-Parrott on Lupe, a tune he co-wrote, as well as You and Supermoon – all lovely singing, with a really nice sense of strength, brought by the insistent pace of the artificial percussion. It just rattles along, even through the songs which themselves seem to waver a little more.

It may have a slight air of vulnerability to it, but that’s really just her voice, and even so it’s pretty minimal, but these are (generally short) sharp, self-contained pop songs and this is an excellent record.