Song, by Toad

Archive for the Unsigned category

avatar

Sharptooth

sharptooth I didn’t know about Sharptooth, I have to confess, before this year’s Pale Imitation Festival. I asked PAWS who else they would like on the bill for their festival-closing slot, and they recommended Sharptooth and Halfrican. Sharptooth couldn’t make that particular date, but they did happen to be around for the show last Saturday with The Yawns and alansmithee, so we took the opportunity to get them on the bill somewhere else instead.

And you know what? They were fucking ace. Really early-nineties-sounding, they remind me in some ways of a slightly more hypnotic and less jagged North American War – a band whose demise I still lament. They share a sort of flat delivery, and the constant possibility that they’re going to thrash the shit out of everything any second now.

It’s not as languid as the other two bands with whom they shared a stage, perhaps not as aggressive as other guitar bands who like their distortion, so I would maybe say that there’s a sort of cold defiance to this stuff. It’s all shattered from time to time, like the deranged screech in the middle of Invidia, or the brief squalls of frenetic guitar which boil over occasionally, such as three quarters of the way through Bonnie Blaze, and that means that as brief as these moments are there’s always the threat of something exploding from somewhere to slap you round the head, which makes the generally deadpan delivery all the more menacing.

It was more obvious live than on the recordings, but I particularly enjoyed drumming on Saturday as well. They can be ominous too, but there’s a thumping roll to them which offsets the thrum of the guitar fantastically well.  So thanks for the recommendation, PAWS. This was ace. There are only three songs up on Soundcloud at the moment, and I am not entirely sure what the band’s plans are (I probably asked, but there was a lot of beer involved) but they sounded fantastic and I am really looking forward to seeing what else they get up to.

avatar

Neon Waltz

I’ll probably seem a bit slow to pick up on Neon Waltz, given their appearances at T in the Park and Wickerman this year, and I assume that the ‘ZOMG Scottish music is just all so amazin’‘ frotherati will have been all over them for some time. Nevertheless, I like to take my time with these things, and I wasn’t totally blown away by the first thing they sent me through, but this new tune is really good.

Just as I am forever saying that you shouldn’t rush to declare a band are brilliant after no more than a couple of decent tunes, I do have to keep reminding myself that the reverse is true as well, and that even if then first thing you hear by a band is no better than ‘pretty good’, then you really have to hear some more before you can really have an opinion one way or another.

So, after a decent start to their existence with Sombre Fayre, I find myself really very much enjoying the new tune by this band from the very, very North of mainland Scotland. It has a sort of gentle mix of psychedelia and Britpop and a truly hummable, confident way about it. There aren’t that many bands around that I like who dabble in early-nineties British music (compared to the dozens poking around in early-nineties American music) but these guys certainly touch on that kind of area.

The music has an easy-going feel to it, but the rhythm is still up front and danceable – albeit in a rather mellow manner. If they can maintain this lovely balance between lively pop and wistfulness, and come up with a few more tunes as enjoyable as this one these lads could do pretty well for themselves. I’d certainly have tried to book them for the Pale Imitation Festival if I’d heard this song in time. Ah well, there’s time yet.

avatar

Los Angeles Police Department Album Approaching

lapd I  am forever sneering at people hopping up and down claiming to have ‘discovered’ bands*, or claiming far too much credit for talented people achieving things in their lives. I don’t know how bad bloggers are for it these days, but back when I started there was a fair bit of that kind of territory-marking and it was pretty depressing.

Having said that, however, it is pretty nice when you hear someone’s scrappy first demos and follow them through to a full album release, and then the album is awesome. Even if you don’t really contribute anything at all, you still feel kinda proud of them. It’s not supposed to be condescending, more that the music industry drives so many people away that you catch yourself accidentally investing emotionally in folk, and it can be very nice to see them succeed.

Not that this album announcement represents a sudden explosion of success, just yet, but when the first Los Angeles Police Department demos started floating around the internet  I don’t remember many people taking much notice other myself and Tom from Gold Flake Paint. I seriously doubt you end up with ten thousand Soundcloud plays from just the support of those two websites of course, but it was still a nice moment – a sort of ‘see, I knew there was something good happening here’.

Tom liked the band so much he is now handling their new album release on Gold Flake Tapes. It’s available on vinyl and cassette, and for all I haven’t heard the album yet there has been a new teaser track released and it shows an interesting progression, most obvious in the vocal treatment. Have a listen:

From their earlier demos, the vocal seems a lot less murky, as well as being higher in the mix. I suppose this raises the age-old question about whether or not lo-fi production values are deliberate aesthetic choice, and how an artist actually hears themselves in their own heads. LAPD actually remind me of Smog a fair bit at times, as they seem to operate in that vague area between lo-fi guitar tunes and slow, warm downbeat pop with a sense of solidity and reassurance about it. Primarily because of the vocals, I guess, the two bands don’t sound all that similar, but they can generate the same emotional impressions at times.

There’s a bit more twee-pop in this, I guess. The new track above certainly has a bit of that, but there’s enough growl and haze in here in general that I don’t mind that aspect, and actually I think it gives it really nice texture. So I’m looking forward to this, and nice to see Gold Flake Tapes building up a head of steam too.

*Alright, alright, let’s be honest, I am forever sneering at people, period. I am just not a very nice person, sorry. Also, I am lying about being sorry.

avatar

Broken Records – Weights & Pulleys

BR weights Broken Records, like Paws, are my pals, and I have been following their respective careers pretty much since the start, so while I try to not to just blindly lavish them with praise you should also not expect an objective review on these pages. Not that any music reviewing is objective, no matter what the pretensions of the writer, but I thought I should at least flag them up early.

But you know the rules around here, if you’re my pal and I don’t like your record I just won’t review it, so the only reason this is hear is because I think it’s awesome.

Broken Records albums have always intrigued me, in the sense that I’ve always found myself wondering if it would reveal that I had significantly misjudged the character of the band. Listening to a band’s artistic touchstones at least suggests something about who they think they are, even if interpreting them is a bit haphazard.

In the case of their first album, we’d waited so long for it, and in the case of the second the rather extreme reactions to the first one (both from the press and, if I’m honest, from within the band) meant that I was truly intrigued by what I was about to hear.

In this case the three year gap since its predecessor has seen a lot of changes. Band members have come and gone, a record label – and a significant one at that – has come and gone, and the individual members of the band have seen some pretty significant life changes.

Opting for a self-release this time is not perhaps as big a jump as it might seem. I remember the first time I interviewed the band being told that Broken Records had originally been conceived as a sort of collective-cum-label, and I do know that a couple of members of the band also have their own solo projects, so this is something which must have been at least vaguely in the back of someone’s mind since the beginning.

So after a three-year break, who are Broken Records these days, then? Well the jump from album number one to two was pretty significant, but this feels less drastic. They’re a moody indie band now I suppose, in the broadest of terms, embellished with violin, piano and trumpet. Generally though it’s the rhythm section which controls the pace and feel of the songs, although that sounds like a rather redundant statement.

Still, if you listen to it, while there’s not really any shoegaze in the music per se, you can hear washes of what I am going to *cough* elegantly refer to as shoegazily played guitar – all shimmers and textures. It is the mood of the drumming and the density and darkness of these guitar textures which really seem to define the feeling you get from the music more than anything else – such as the light, borderline jauntiness of You’ll Be Lonely (in a Little While), the momentum of second single Winterless Son or the sense of yearning which permeates the gorgeous Toska.

Take a bit of time with this as well, because the first few times I heard this I thought little more than a generally positive ‘yep, this is good’ but on subsequent listens I like it more and more. Subtler parts start to really stand out too, like the rise and fall of the excellent guitar part at the forefront of So Long, So Late. or the touching vocal delivery of the lovely closing tune All Else Can Just Wait.

I suppose if I were to nit-pick I’d say that the choral vocals aren’t always entirely my cup of tea elsewhere on the album, although funnily enough, one of my other favourite moments is the big vocal end of Nothing Doubtful, a song which seems to hark back to earlier times. There are a couple of tracks like I Won’t Leave You in the Dark, I guess, which are decent songs but perhaps not much more than that, but in general this is a really good album with barely a weak spot, made by a band who seem to be on a remarkably even keel considering all the changes over the last couple of years.

They never got as big as people expected them to, and they never went away when people expected them to either, and now when people have stopped expecting anything at all they’ve come out with a fantastic record. You can buy one here, if you like.

avatar

BRAAINZZ

a0879236038_10 Umm, yes I am going to attempt to seriously review music which at times sounds like you’ve got the sample rate wrong on the mp3s and are listening to it at the wrong speed. Wish me luck.

This was another one of those occasions where I didn’t pay much attention the first time I listened to the EP they sent through – available as a free download from Bandcamp here – and it was a bit too weird and over a bit too quickly for me to really compute.

The way this stuff actually sank in was due to the fact that I had a really limited amount of music on my phone for a good few months and never really made the effort to update it. Consequently, if I was doing work or driving or whatever I happened to be doing, I tended to just stick the entire lot on random and hope for the best. I didn’t recognise these tunes to begin with, but in the midst of all my nice sensitive indie music, every single time I pricked up my ears and thought ‘what the fuck is this weird shit?’ is was BRAAINZZ, without fail.

To give you  an idea, No Need 2 Thank Me (feat. Mrs. God) sounds like it employs a ukulele at first. And maybe it does. But I think they’ve actually recorded the song with vocal and acoustic guitar and just sped the whole thing up. The whole song. And of course it sounds like it’s being sung by The Chipmunks in that way that music played at the wrong speed tends to. But rather amazingly, it doesn’t sound like pointless nonsense, it actually sounds good. Really good. As in, good enough that I actively seek out their stuff and play it really quite a lot. Don’t ask me how they do it, because it really should be awful.

There’s a lot of time-shifting and vocal jiggery-pokery going on here in general actually, with heavy vocoder use and slight slowing of the vocal really quite common on the first BRAAINZZ EP. This one is a bit more chuggy, where The Drew Carey Show EP sounded more like the sproinging of mattress springs as they break, this is more like being in one of those dreams where you need to run and for some reason you can’t.

I have no idea what faint strands of pop music they have managed to retain to make this all sound good, but somehow they have. It can be like a more playful take on Dirty Beaches at times, I suppose, but I’m struggling to think of any other decent comparisons.

The band describe themselves, presumably more than a little facetiously, as Shroom Folk or Wyrd Pop. It may not be entirely serious, but it actually paints a fairly accurate picture. Victory H20, UT (before we left ‘bama) also features Mrs. God, who does seems to get about a bit, but perhaps sums up the band’s approach the best. Underneath all the fucking about, it actually sounds like a fairly sensible, melancholy acoustic tune. Once it’s been given the treatment, however, it sounds like you’re somehow listening to it before you’ve quite woken up properly.

They actually follow this with $iren$ of Titan (feat. Slide Show), which is about their most easily digestible song. It may still be hazy and hissy, but there is some lovely cello and beautiful vocal harmonies underneath all the mess, and it’s actually a lovely tune.

So they clearly like making a mess, this lot, but despite short songs which stumble to a stop before they even know that they’ve started, and despite a chronic inability to leave anything untreated, they have just hung on to that tiny shred of pop comfort needed to make this really rather good.

Tags:
avatar

Wozniak – Pike’s Peak

I think that when I first wrote about Plastic Animals I said that I didn’t immediately think they were great – in fact I had my reservations about their very earliest recordings – but there was still a kernel of something there which told me to keep an eye on the band, and that they were capable of doing really good things. The fact that we are currently recording the band’s debut album should tell you all you need to know about how that worked out.

Wozniak are a band I think I would describe similarly. Their first recordings, rather than bowling me over immediately, had a glimmer of something I really liked about them, and like Plastic Animals every subsequent encounter has improved upon that impression.  New EP Pike’s Peak (pre-order here) is no exception: after their first single you can hear the band slowly coalescing into something more complete.

Basically this is shoegaze music, I suppose, albeit with touches of krautrock and psychedelia. There’s a lot of good stuff operating in that vague territory these days; for some odd reason shoegaze seems to operate on a much shorter cycle than the standard twenty year recycling towards which the fashion world tends.

Nevertheless, despite their kind efforts to make a radio edit of El Maresme, the song at the top of the page, there isn’t a lot of pop to be had here. A lot of it is heavily dependent on noise, and with music like that I tend to find it best to do something else and let it wash over me, then do the same thing the next day, and then the next. You find out pretty quickly that way if something is sticking in your head or if the whole thing just passes you forgettably by without ever making much of a lasting impression.

The problem with this method from a blogger’s perspective, however, is that it can be really rather hard to articulate what it is about a piece of music which makes it feel like it works. Particularly this kind of music. There aren’t a lot of tunes here, per se, instead you get lots of washes and thrums, and the odd descent into little more than feedback and guitar grumble.

Paper Hat is a little lighter, which is a good thing, because you can’t just hammer away at people like this with no respite, particularly when you consider that the final track Gesamtkunstwerk is basically a four and a half minute buzz (which strangely isn’t crap). Either way, they haven’t given much ground here. Not much quarter is given to the concept of ‘pop music’ and I guess this won’t make them famous, but to me it sounds like a band who started out with some promise, and are getting better every time I hear them. More please.

Tags:
avatar

Do the Gods Speak Esperanto

tumblr_static_tumblr_lnczwpcnjs1qzvd2s There are a couple of reasons for this post, one of which is kind of self-serving and will become obvious soon enough. The other is that this music is really rather lovely and I think you should hear it. You know, like the entire rest of this ridiculous blog I’ve been scribbling away at since sometime in 2004. Two thousand and fucking four!

It’s the Bastard Mountain album launch at the Queen’s Hall (see, told you I wasn’t very subtle!), and I know that instead of a support band we promised short sets from all the musicians involved in the collaboration, as this seemed to be more fitting with the overall project. However, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who comes along tonight, we can’t really have a Sparrow and the Workshop set so instead Jill will be playing with another project called Do the Gods Speak Esperanto.

I know a lot of people know of BDY_PRTS, her collaboration with Jenny Reeve from Strike the Colours, but where that is really rather poppy, this work with Sean from John Knox Sex Club has a far more folky feel.

I know people tend to reflexively throw the folk tag at pretty much all acoustic pop music, but in this case the phrasing and verse structure and the way the vocals interplay reminds me quite a lot more of traditional music than a lot of the stuff either Jill or Sean do with their main projects, despite both of these also having the folk tag applied to them at times too.

The Ballad of Accounting shows this lyrical style most obviously, with some call and response interspersed with some unusually traditional (by these two’s standards, anyway) protest folk singing.

And it’s gorgeously done. Ballad of Accounting is gently insistent, but the other two tunes on their Soundcloud page are light, sad, breezy and lovely. There is a little bit of string work in there too, although not that much, and mixed pretty low. Mostly it’s about the two vocals, which have just a touch of old-school cabaret about them but mostly just follow these lilting, intertwining paths with a slow, soothing ebb and flow.

So yes, these guys will be one of a couple of people (including Meursault, Rob St. John and Rory Sutherland) opening for Bastard Mountain tonight. The music will start at 8pm, so get down relatively early if you want to hear this as well as the other sets, before the Bastards play their album start to finish to end the evening.

See you there!

avatar

Now Wakes the Sea – Bildungsroman

Bildungsroman_Cover_bigA couple of years ago, when I first started writing about Now Wakes the Sea, I rather flippantly referred to them as ‘the best band in Scotland that no-one’s ever heard about’. I didn’t take it all that seriously at the time, as they’d just released a glitchy, mumbled record of morose lo-fi songs – the absolutely fantastic Fluoxetine Morning – and I accepted that that wasn’t exactly the kind of music to spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and automatically elevate an artist to stadium-stuffing levels of fame.

A couple of years later and we’ve seen a couple of absolutely fantastic EPs, and now this brilliant new album, Bildungsroman (buy here), and suddenly the whole thing seems like a little less of an amusing throwaway comment and is starting to feel like a genuinely vexing question. Seriously, why aren’t this band better known? Admittedly, they haven’t had a fortune thrown at their marketing, and their live shows are rare and a little unpredictable, but beyond a small handful of other enthusiasts, people have shown little to no interest – particularly the press. I am becoming as annoyed with the ‘best band no-one’s ever heard of’ tag as I can only assume the band are at this point.

This music is weird, distorted, foggy and lost, as well as being that perfect combination of genuinely interesting and eminently hummable. This is a varied record in every sense, from instrumentation to mood, coherence to incoherence. It can be experimental and lo-fi and it can be, by this band’s standards anyway, relatively chirpy and brash. It is, in short, excellent. Why the fuck are they not being reviewed everywhere.

Admittedly neither the band nor their label are famous, but when that leads to even relatively small-market music publications completely ignoring their efforts to promote the album, the fault starts to seem to lie with the press and not the music. Are they too busy trotting along behind be-haircutted hipster buzz garbage in the hopes that a small scrap of acknowledgement might be thrown their way? Are they scrambling around trying to cover the same fashionable nonsense that everyone else is covering in some desperate bid not to be seen as having missed a particular boat, or missed out on the pageviews that they think they’ll get from being the 1000th fucking site that day to repost some particular video? Do they actually not have the courage to have opinions of their own and the confidence to write about good things simply because they are good, not because the zeitgeist might nod a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow their way?

The short answer is yes. The state of the fucking music press is absolutely fucking woeful at the moment. Herd-instinct at its most contemptible, endless PREMMY-AAAAIRE! click-baiting, scrambling to scent-mark the cool kids and writing faux-controversial, worthless fucking ‘thought-pieces’ (one of the most grating terms in modern writing), and completely neglecting the one thing which above all else gives you integrity and credibility as a music writer: finding good music and writing about it. And writing well.

It reminds me of why blogs were such a breath of fresh air when they first emerged, but as more of them are pulled into the mainstream and others regress to a sort of Twitter-max stream of links and embeds on Tumblr, we are left with very few bloggers who simply do it for the pleasure of finding unusual and obscure music and spending some time to write about it.

What I love about this album is that all because of the presence of a couple of wonkily upbeat numbers with cheery keyboard refrains – notably Original Bone (see video below) and The Shore & the Coastline – it feels like Now Wakes the Sea have written a surprisingly expansive pop record. They really haven’t, though. This may be more of a band effort than the introspective, solitary Fluoxetine Morning, but there is still all sorts of scattered, fascinating mess on the album.

The wobbly, distorted strum of Photoautomat is fantastic, and reminds me of the kind of stuff we released on the Cold Seeds record. ‘Oooh, yes but that’s why it’s not done as well as you think it should’, you might say, ‘that’s too lo-fi and strange for a mainstream audience’. But then almost that exact same technique is used to underpin the glorious Bring Me Simple Men by Timber Timbre (see here), and for all they aren’t huge either, they aren’t exactly doing badly. People can stomach this stuff, but I sometimes get the impression that if we expect weird music then that is what we will hear, whereas if we just assume that what we’re hearing is normal and we aren’t primed to be shocked, then we can be much more accepting than we think.

There is more weirdness here too. Pictures Stay the Same is a textured, almost entirely instrumental drone with what sounds like a looped, heavily treated sample providing only a vague, unsettling gesture as a vocal part. It’s gorgeous though, and probably the murkiest depths to contrast with the highs of the album’s pop numbers. Ending with “To listen to your message again, press one.” is genius, giving the whole thing the terrifying feeling of being some sort of sonic horror story. Or maybe a close friend trying to mumble through a medicated fug about why they just can’t face this life any more, while try as you might, you just can’t understand a thing they’re saying.

The shifting sands of Prefab Houses is brilliant, and oddly enough another tune which slightly evokes Timber Timbre, as it descends from an almost industrial keyboard racket into an echoey, ambient decline. We get one more pop song after that, then something a little gentler and more melancholy, before the final bilious racket of Shining Bright O’er Land & Sea brings things to what feels like a final, angry, almost contemptuous conclusion. Fuck you, it seems to say. You’ve had the tunes, and I’ve tried my best, but fuck it, this is what’s really inside my head.

The song is not, I suppose, the kind of music I myself could have handled eight or nine years ago when I was probably in my most populist phase, but at this stage in my life this is a triumphantly discordant ‘fuck you, I’m done here’ and a brilliant way to end an album which manages to use some genuinely weird and fucked up noises and still have the feel of a fantastic pop record. Or at least, a pop record in the kind of universe I often wish I inhabited.

People are idiots.

avatar

Andrew R. Burns

In keeping with the 2014 rule that everything musically good in Scotland seems to be coming from Livingstone at the moment (yes, I know, don’t ask), here is some excellent new stuff from Andrew R. Burns.

I would normally have said “like alansmithee before him, he seems to be very much enamoured with Mac DeMarco” but actually alansmithee’s last release seems to move out of that territory a little, so maybe it’s not the best way to start this after all. Mr. Burns, on the other hand, very much seems like he draws heavily on DeMarco, but that’s no bad thing.

As I have just discovered with alansmithee, of course, it’s a little risky to try and draw out people’s influences too definitely when they only have a few songs available to inform your guesses, so let’s go with a quick description of the music instead: gorgeously wobbly guitars, laid back pop songs and the sort of vocal delivery you imagine being delivered by a skinny fellow in a suit and shirt with an open collar, looking a little dishevelled after a few too many nights in the depths of a casino, and who consequently has no real idea what time of day it is outside anymore.

Andrew himself described the songs as “essentially sloppy guitar based dream-pop” when he got in touch, and that’s true enough, but it’s nice, and there aren’t too many people doing this kind of thing well around here at the moment. I look forward to hearing more.

avatar

Los Angeles Police Department

lapd A lot of the bedroom pop acts knocking about these days deliberately overplay the lo-fi nature of their recording, or sometimes the hesitance of the performance. Sometimes this is endearing, sometimes glisteningly fragile, and sometimes contrived and annoying.

I have to confess I don’t know if Los Angeles Police Department strictly counts as ‘bedroom’ pop but it certainly sounds like it. It embraces the buzz and hum of that stuff, and the vocals are fragile and just a little bit otherworldly. Far from playing up a lack of confidence, however, this music feels solid and even during it’s airier, borderline twee moments you never get the impression that there is any attempt to avoid your gaze.

Quite the opposite, in fact. For music which does flirt with Glasgow-style twee pop, this stuff nevertheless has the feel of something certain and confident. Maybe it’s the way the voice drifts and dances, but never actually falters. And maybe the fact that the guitars buzz, but never too much. It embraces a lot of the classic bedroom pop aesthetic touchstones, but never overplays any of them, or feels like it is allowing itself to be led by aspirations to a certain style.

Waste, above, is their new single, following on from Enough is Enough and The Only One, both of which I featured on Toadcasts towards the end of last year. The band have been embraced by Gold Flake Paint as well, who recently relocated to Edinburgh and will hopefully add a little much-needed  impetus to the local music scene. For starters they’ve started a digital singles club, which will feature Toad favourites The Yawns, as well as these folks later in the year.

It’s hard to tell where Los Angeles Police Department are going, of course, with only three songs to go on. The Only One definitely leans more in the direction of twee, which I quite like but am not entirely convinced by, but the more hazy, guitary sound of the two more recent songs hints at something a little darker and nastier.  Needless to say, it is the latter direction which I think would be most likely to please me but as we are slowly seeing, being my cup of tea often increases in inverse proportion to commercial success so maybe paying any attention to my preferences ain’t necessarily the wisest thing.