Song, by Toad

Archive for the Unsigned category

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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.

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Passion Pusher – Again!

pp Since I last mentioned Edinburgh shambles Passion Pusher I think a couple of months have gone by, so naturally if you’ve taken your eye off the ball you’ve missed something like a dozen releases since then. Seriously, the boy’s fucking mental. [Edit: he's actually released two new things, just since I started typing this.]

With this incredible volume of releases, listening to Passion Pusher becomes a bit weird. Most of these are half-thought-out demos, a bit of an idea here, some shit he did when he was bored there, and they all just tumble out onto Bandcamp in such a haphazard torrent that I confess I find it a challenge to keep up.

Because they’re almost all short songs, and the EPs released generally no more than five or six songs long, it can be weird hopping from one sarcastically-named release to the next. You never know if you’re going to get garage rock, mumbled acoustic fuzz, or just drifting, incoherent soundscapes.

If these guys wrote 69 Love Songs, which they probably could easily do by now, it might not exceed the length of a single record. But there’s something compelling about this. They seem like they barely have any idea what they’re doing and are just stumbling along, mostly drunk, spraffing out recordings here and there. Often bands who seem a bit like these know what they are doing more than they let on, but I wouldn’t bet on that being the case here.

The thing is, in amongst the chaos, a lot of this is really good. There are guitar sproings all over the place, songs which peter out into nothing, slurred, inaudible vocals and all sorts. But it’s good. The guitar tone they get can be absolutely gorgeous, the slower songs have a lovely, genuinely touching melancholy to them a lot of the time, and in amongst some of the messier tunes you get these brief moments of clarity where suddenly it’s a pop song for a moment and then fuck it, everything returns to haze once more.

I’d love to hear them do a more disciplined release at some point – or even just a more formal one – but I am also slightly nervous that might knock some of the magic out of it. The joy here is in the chaos, and god knows what would happen if you got these guys into a studio and asked them to rattle out the hits. I don’t know. But I do know that this is good stuff and I want to hear more. Fortunately, I probably won’t have to wait more than a day or two for the next release.

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Tisso Lake – Carnival/Canter 7″

tl If you head over to the Tissø Lake Bandcamp page you can pick up a copy of a new 7″ they’ve just released, and umm, by the fact that I here posting about it I suppose you’ve already realised that I recommend that you do.

That you probably don’t know too much about Tissø Lake is probably more down to Ian Humberstone himself – the man behind the project – than anything else. Not that he’s not a lovely guy, because he is, and not that he’s one of these artists who deliberately sabotages their own success either, because he doesn’t. In Ian’s case he just doesn’t play all that much, although I don’t know if that’s a deliberate decision or not, and he really doesn’t release that much either.

As a label who has released at least one thing by Ian, albeit under his own name, I’ve tried to encourage him to record and release more stuff as subtly as I can. Artists can be funny when you are trying to encourage them to do things though, and when you don’t know someone all that well genuine enthusiasm can come across as bungling harassment, so for someone not generally known for tact or sensitivity, I’ve tried to tread as carefully as I can.

Anyhow, apparently Ian is just someone who likes to work at his own pace and in his own way and won’t really be pushed into stuff until he’s good and ready, but the pace of new releases seems to have increased recently and there is talk of an album happening in the relatively near future, which is most exciting news.

Before that, however, there is this. It’s less glacial than some of his previous things, which can either have a late-evening sense of gentle comfort to them or a reassuring twinkle. In this case there’s more of a clip to the songs, with Carnival dancing around to the tune of a disciplined violin which sounds really quite traditional most of the time. This song and Canter work in much the same way, with that lovely violin playing over a rolling, plucked acoustic guitar.

I think it’s probably Canter which most obviously embodies why I like Humberstone’s work so much. I might just prefer Carnival (that’s not a value judgement, it’s primarily because it’s not an instrumental and he has a gorgeous voice) but towards the end of Canter the violin and guitar rise to increasingly bitey* little squawks, not too abrasive, but just enough to make this weird and interesting. And that, I think, is the essence of what makes Tissø Lake such a rewarding listen: in amongst a wash of warm, gorgeous, reassuring music there are these constant moments of surprise to stop you getting complacent and lazy as a listener.

*Yes, it’s a word. Because I said so.

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Dead Katz/Passion Pusher Split Tape

a2075642182_2 Due to our extensive research department here at Song, by Toad I know basically nothing at all about Dead Katz, apart from the fact their their Facebook page says they’re from a small town in California I’ve never heard of, and that they describe this town as ‘shitty’. I heard about them because of a split cassette release which Glasgow’s rather excellent Electropapknit Records (I really should ask them about that name, as I have absolutely no fucking idea what it is supposed to mean) have just put out, and which is itself also rather excellent.

You can listen to and order the cassette here, and I recommend you do, as it is one of the best recent examples of its kind I’ve heard. By its kind, I mean that kind of lazy-sounding slacker guitar music, tinged with shoegaze, old-school indie rock, lo-fi and a bit of dreampop. You know the kind of stuff I mean – or at least you will within about five seconds of pressing go on the embedded player at the bottom of the page.

I’ve been a little quiet on this sort of style of music for a while recently, and I think that’s because after the initial burst of underground energy brought so many absolutely brilliant bands of this type to my attention, the last year or so has been rather more cluttered with unimaginative imitators, presumably attracted to the very high levels of hipster cred which now surround the genre. That’s fine of course – ‘hipster cred’ is often largely made up of plain and simple ‘popularity’ and not something to be sneered at, and it’s good to see an increasing level of engagement in this kind of music from people with a bigger audience and more mainstream clout than I have, but the ensuing rush to follow can trample some of the good stuff underfoot.

In Passion Pusher, of course, we in Edinburgh have our own impossibly prolific master of this kind of sloppy-yet-awesome approach, and the tags on their Bandcamp page pretty much sum up the aesthetic of the genre: “alternative bummer dingus rock lo-fi noise pop sex rock Edinburgh”. The haplessness of of lot of this stuff can put people off, I guess. For some it seems feigned, but it very often isn’t.

The ones putting it on for cool points annoy pretty much everyone, but then plenty of these musicians are just genuinely as socially awkward as their public personas can suggest. And underneath the prickly exterior, if you have a genuine appreciation of and interest in their music, they are generally really nice too.

It can sound careless and deliberately shitty too, but I really resent that accusation. There’s often a very specific sound which takes quite a bit of thought to achieve – the slightly wobbly guitar on Passion Pusher’s Life in Transit, for example, is fucking gorgeous and it’s not the first time I’ve sat up and taken notice during one of their songs and thought ‘hang on, what’s that, it sounds fucking ace’.

I think sometimes the best way to figure out if this kind of music is actually by a good band, rather than someone chasing a fashionable sound, is simply to listen without paying much attention. With short sharp stuff like this, if it’s any good, you’ll soon find yourself humming along or feeling instantly familiar with the songs. And this tape is good. Really good, in fact.

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Yesterday, Perhaps – Songs of the Kitchen Cynics

yesterdayperhaps This is an internet-defyingly brilliant album, which I can’t find to buy anywhere, and I can’t find any digital samples of to share with you to convince you just how fucking ace it is. But honestly, it’s incredible. It is in fact one of those albums I first heard, thought ‘what on earth is going on here’, and then proceeded to play it again and again for hours.

Despite the coffee table, soul-folk-pop ear-fucking abomination of a sound which has overwhelmed modern folk music, this is everything I love the most about folk. Or acoustic pop music, whatever you want to call it. The drones, the creepiness, the occasionally horrific narratives, the tense, drawn-out sounds which smack far more of elusive horror than children’s bedtime stories… it’s all there.

I suppose my sense of wonder was enhanced by having absolutely no idea about the Kitchen Cynics – the nom de plume for a well established, if hardly gloriously famous folk singer from Aberdeen called Alan Davidson. Bands on my own label have shared a stage with him, and given how much I’ve enjoyed this I find myself slightly outraged than no-one has mentioned him to me before. In all honesty that outrage probably masks a sense of guilt at supposedly being a champion of underground Scottish music and somehow having allowed someone like this to completely escape my notice, but nevertheless, come on people, what were you thinking!

Anyhow, this album contains a series of covers by more and less well known folk artists – Alasdair Roberts, Adrian Crowley and Major Matt Mason USA among them – but I think it’s the ones I’ve never heard of who have made my favourite recordings. Adam Leonard and Sharron Kraus may be more famous in the folk world than they are in mine, but I’d not heard of them before, and their contributions to this album are absolutely fantastic

The only way to get hold of it is to try places like Coda or VoxBox who might well have copies, or alternatively email kitchencynics@googlemail.com and arrange for Alan to sell  you one. Not so much as a Paypal link – told you it was an internet-defier! If, like me, you’ve suddenly realised you need to know more about the Kitchen Cynics then there is loads of stuff on Bandcamp, but that’s not the half of it, he’s released tons and tons of stuff – there’s an attempt at a complete discography here.

As I said, I can’t really find you a proper preview of this particular album, but below I have embedded the original version of When Father Hanged the Children, so beautifully and horribly performed by Sharron Krauss on Yesterday, Perhaps, as well as a tune called Francis Masson, Botanist, which might have been released on vinyl last year, but I am not sure because Folk Police Recordings who were due to release it have since ceased trading, which is a shame. Still, fine tunes. Enjoy.

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Sometimes I am Grateful for My Own Nepotism

I know nepotism is one of the most derided aspects of the music industry, and I can understand that, I really can. It can be intensely frustrating watching the whole industry revolve around its little centres, knowing that being out in the sticks here in Edinburgh puts us at a massive disadvantage. And that’s just Edinburgh, imagine how permanently raging I would be if we were really isolated.

But, if we want to look at it another way, and perhaps see it as something a little less pernicious, then perhaps we should acknowledge that a large part of nepotism is born of good things, like trust and loyalty. If a band gives their pals’ band a prominent support slot on their tour then it’s annoying for me, or anyone else who wishes they could have scored that slot, but generally they’re doing it for good reasons and shouldn’t really be criticised that much.

Certainly my loyalty to a few bands and a few recommendations has served my musical taste well, over the years. Some of my favourite bands and favourite records are ones I persisted with not because I liked them all that much on first listen, but because I trusted either the band or the recommender to come good in the long run. In fact, I think it has been one of the most consistently reliable ways I have found over the years to push my music taste in new directions. You need some sort of reason to persist with something you’re not really getting, after all.

I only got into vaguely nasty guitar music by a friend of mine continually playing The Wedding Present. I’ve only really started to understand drone and noise music, and I suppose psychey prog opuses as well,  since I came to Edinburgh and have been surrounded by people who love this kind of stuff and are forever excitedly making me listen to it, despite the somewhat sceptical facial expressions which tend to result. I give this kind of recommendation so much more time, though, because of how much I know our tastes overlap already and also because once you get to know someone, and get to know how they think about music, it tends to give you more respect for opinions of theirs even when you disagree with them. In GCSE terms, if the working-out is right, it’s not so crucial if  the answer is incorrect.

The song at the top of the page is new stuff from a friend of mine, and I really like it. Honestly, though, I am not sure if I would have given it enough time had I not known the guy who made it. We’ve sat up late and bickered about music in the past, so I know that whatever my first impression there is likely to be something in there that I like. I also know that we have a lot in common in terms of the overall aesthetic and approach to music, so I am guessing that will still apply when the music in question is his own.

For another example, last week I mentioned the ten-minute, squealing feedback tone on Side B of David Thomas Broughton’s UnAbleTo. I am not sure how well he took me saying that I didn’t like it, but I loved the rest of the album, and I can’t think of anyone else who would have had me listening to a noise like that again and again, actively trying to find a way to enjoy it. But I’ve seen DTB play live often enough to know that he likes to push his audience, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve been stood there just on the cusp of thinking ‘wait, he’s not playing music anymore is he, he’s just fucking about here, surely’ only for the melody to suddenly kick back and that feeling of relief and understanding to flood the room once more. So I know that’s how he makes music – finding those edges and picking at them – and I really did give that ten minute feedback as many goes as I could before admitting that, nah, it just wasn’t for me in the end.

Why do I say this? Well because this kind of nepotism makes me feel guilty at times. I think of all the artists who send me stuff, and who get fifteen seconds of listening before some horrible RnB vocal or nasty ‘rawk!’ guitar riff make me switch off immediately with a shudder, and it feels a little unfair that I should listen to a friend’s song ten times before even trying to form an opinion, or that I should play that one feedback passage over and over again, trying to get my head round it.

But where aspects of that are just nepotism and are just plain unfair, there are parts of it which are okay. I trust both Chris and David to make music I love, so to an extent that leeway is earned by being part of a broader conversation.

But also, I think it’s quite important. Without having a few people around you who you trust to take you into unfamiliar territory it can be hard to properly embrace new things. After all, you need a good reason to continue to listen to something you don’t necessarily enjoy properly at first. That persistence tends to come from a little faith in the recommender, or from familiar tones from an artist’s other work that you like making themselves heard in something weirder, and providing you with just enough of a vein of familiarity to stick with it a little longer. So nepotism may be bad, in some ways, and is definitely more than a little unfair at times, but without it I think my music taste would have utterly stagnated some time ago.

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Alan Smithee

0002172538_20 With the excellent Soft Power Records making their home there, and now this lot, maybe the ‘ha ha ha, right, a band from Livingston’ shit really has to change.

One of my favourite Scottish bands, The Scottish Enlightenment, are from Dunfermline, Stonehaven has half a dozen cracking bands to its name (albeit mostly composed of the same people), even more great bands come from the East Neuk, and Frightened Rabbit are from the fucking Borders, so all this shite about Scottish music being dominated by the Central Belt really is baws. Alright, the industry is dominated by the Central Belt, because most of the population is there, but the actual music itself really isn’t.

The name Alan Smithee* is a funny enough name in itself, being the name Hollywood directors used to use as a code to indicate that they disowned the movie for which they were being credited. It’s a wry and very Scottish joke, and that shrug kind of fits the shamboling slacker vibe of their earlier demos, which can be a bit patchy.

Later material such as their new single Half Measured Man, is much more assured, however. There is a sort of laid back, slightly unnerving feeling to it a little reminiscent of Kurt Vile or Mac DeMarco, the latter of whom the band do cite as an influence. It’s guitar pop, basically, but there is a woozy, damaged feel to the best of it.

The band are not generally as good (in my opinion of course) when they go more upbeat, and they’re relatively new so some of the early stuff is a little uneven, but in general they sound like they have a lot of promise and I am looking forward to hearing more. Go to their Bandcamp page for a bit more.

* I confess I had to be told this by someone else, so don’t think that I am trying to show you that I am some sort of urban sophisticate and you a mere rube, I promise you I am just as clueless.

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Deathcats – The Raddest

Well I guess I would describe Deathcats as a band who make pure pop music. Energetic, guitary pop music for sure, but of all the audiences at all of our gigs over the last few years the most pure fun seemed to be had by Deathcats and their fans. For someone who listens to a lot of dirgey, miserable (and brilliant, don’t get me wrong) stuff, I love gigs like this. It doesn’t matter if people talk through it, because the band are so loud and boisterous no-one fucking notices anyway!

The band have just released their first proper EP on Fuzzkill Records, and it’s a fucking corker. It takes a couple of their most obvious pop songs – I Wish it Was Summer and Surfing in My Head – and delivers them in a couple of surprisingly clean and slick recordings. Having seen the band bounce around the stage and heard their earlier, somewhat rougher recordings, this serves as a fine reminder that beneath every deliberately ramshackle lo-fi growler there needs to be something solid to hum along to, or you’re basically just peddling style over substance.

Not that this is substantial music, per se – it’s not deep in any way, it’s just three fucking great pop tunes – but as pop songs go they are simple, tightly executed and irrepressibly infectious. It’s very surfy, as you can guess from the titles, but this level of borderline-pastiche is utterly irrelevant when you’re delivering quality material. Two straight-up musical Calippos are followed by Cowabunga Beach Party, another tune whose name signposts exactly what you are going to hear, but whose two-minute closing instrumental is a perfect sign-off to a short, sharp EP of pure musical fun.

That’s right, fun, I said it. Me liking music because it is awesome fun. What will my inner sulky indie snob think?

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Passion Pusher – Bury Me Next to My Father

bury In amongst the other good things happening on the internet over Christmas which probably went largely unnoticed because we were stuffing our faces with turkey and pie was this, a new album by Passion Pusher on Cath Records.

As I mentioned when I first wrote about them, Passion Pusher release new music at a frightening pace. I first covered the band only a month ago, and since then they’ve already rattled out four new EPs. Yes, four.

Anyhow, one of those is what you could vaguely describe as a first formal release – Bury Me Next to My Father on Cath Records.

It’s actually a six-song, eight-minute release which I guess you would best describe as an EP, with quotation marks over the ‘extended’ part. Six songs is an EP though, no matter what the length, and frankly Passion Pusher’s songs are never that long anyway.

It’s still sloppy guitar music which runs the gamut between harsh garage rock, jangle, slacker pop and lo-fi borderline-dreampop, which leaves the band somewhat isolated in Edinburgh and makes their collaboration with Cath all the more sensible.

If anything these guys remind me a little of Waylon Thornton, who I wrote about yesterday, not in their sound in particular, but in the fact that they release all sorts of stuff all the time, and you basically have to accept that for all most of it will be ace, there will always be some stuff you won’t be that into. It doesn’t matter, though. There’s bound to be something new in the next couple of weeks!

One of the most promising new bands to emerge in Edinburgh in the last year, if you ask me.

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Waylon Thornton – Garage Rock

a1748837071_2 If ever a release made its intentions entirely clear right from the very, very start, then it is this one. It’s called Garage Rock, for starters, and that’s exactly what it is. The first song is called Screaming at You, and that too pretty much sums up what you’re going to hear. And four of the songs are called Untitled, which I suppose hints at just how polished you can expect this EP to be.

It’s all part of what I love about Waylon Thornton, I suppose. Someone who basically just fires out self-releases whenever he seems to feel like it, Thornton’s Bandcamp page is jammed with EPs, mini-albums, or whatever else you want to call them – a whole bunch of fairly short collections of songs which seem to end up together simply because they were recorded on the same afternoon. There’s a lot of material to explore, and a lot of it is very, very good, despite the considerable rough edges.

I don’t always cover these releases, I have to confess, because as with most people who record this much, I don’t always love all of it. I’d call it a quality control issue I guess, apart from the fact that in music ‘quality’ is almost entirely defined by personal taste, and me not liking something doesn’t make it in any way objectively bad.

Nevertheless, in amongst all the clatter and reverb (and in this case screaming) there is an awful lot of really good music to be found here. This is EP may be one of the more unhinged, but there are dreamier efforts as well, like In the Black, released late last year, which I also really liked.

I suppose musicians like Thornton are the reason subscriptions are a good thing. Sign up and I receive a constant supply of music, some of which won’t be for me, but most of which I really, really like.

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