Song, by Toad

Archive for the Unsigned category

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Wild Al Hotchkiss and His Aquaphibians

wildal Well umm, this is ace. I know there’s a lot of talk about the music scene in Edinburgh being either great or terrible at the moment, but one thing is for sure: the sheer number of really promising bands knocking around in Glasgow, releasing on tiny-but-excellent labels is really quite something.

The first release on Howling Moon Records looks like it came out in about 2010, which means that I really should have found them a little sooner than I have. In all honesty, there are probably a few missed emails back in the pile somewhere, if I had paid enough attention, but as frustrating as it is, that is pretty much just the nature of the beast unfortunately.

So here I am in 2015, finally catching up, courtesy of this rather splendid piece of surfy psychedelia by Wild Al Hotchkiss and His Aquaphibians.

Mrs. Toad, with somewhat customary cruelty, took one listen and said ‘well it’s really just noodling isn’t it’ and I suppose you could say that, but dammit I fucking like noodling. And this is good noodling, anyway. There’s a really nice, slow beat to it, but it still feels really physical – and, oddly enough, slightly reminiscent of Django Django in a sense.

I know psyche is so very much the thing now, but it really does look very much like these guys were doing it before it became compulsory to write the word in every single PR email sent in 2014, and maybe if it is a bit more fashionable they’ll get a bit more much-deserved attention.

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Sean Armstrong

seanarmstrong Sean Armstrong is one of those people I tend to refer to as a ‘talented wee shite’. He’s erratic, I guess, and can be a little temperamental, but he’s still been involved in an awful lot of excellent stuff as well as his own self-releases, from The Yawns to Spinning Coin and Passion Pusher, and presumably a few others I am missing out.

He’s released a couple of things recently, a new album called Sevsevenson and very shortly afterwards this EP, called The Sweet Centre, and the latter in particular is gorgeous.

It’s a lot more contemplative and melancholy that a lot of his previous stuff, with wafty, high vocal slathered in reverb and delay to give it a dreamy quality, but when that is slowed down to fit with a really downtempo song it just sounds so very, very sad. With the Shivering Trees on The Sweet Centre is a classic example: just gorgeous, and horribly melancholy. And needless to say, I fucking love it for that.

The recording is lo-fi as fuck, but in this case I think that’s out of necessity rather than contrivance. Sean’s songs translate really well to more polished pop songs – see the aforementioned Spinning Coin and Yawns – but on these recordings you tend to get the framework rather than the embellishment.  Try the solo and band versions of Albany, for example:

There are weird moments all over the place: the SMASHSMASHSMASH in the middle of Juvenile on Sevsevenson for example. It can be a little baffling, but it’s just the nature of the beast. It’s all sort of sellotaped together, and you never know if you’re about to get a pop hit disguised as a scruffy throwaway or just a fragment of an idea which drifts off disconsolately into formlessness. The music seems to have the potential to veer into either at pretty much any point. Maybe that’s what makes it good.

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Kathryn Joseph

Kathryn-Joseph-lying-down Somewhere in Aberdeen there will be a gentleman slapping his hand to his forehead and shouting ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Toad’ when this post goes public. I was told about Kathryn Sawyers (at the time) a wee while ago by a pal up there and once again I have been a little slow to get my shit together and listen.

Early this year, however, Kathryn (now) Joseph released her debut album. She did it rather on the quiet, I think, but it made a real impact with the people who heard it. It’s pretty simple really, based around just her lovely piano and trembly vocal. There is more there – a bit of keys, some percussion – but it’s all based around bringing the best out of the gorgeous interplay between vocal and piano.

So, having finally realised what Stevie up in Aberdeen was talking about, I’ve invited Kathryn to play an Edinburgh show – tomorrow (20th March) with Viking Moses at Henry’s Cellar Bar.

It’s going to be a lovely evening, I reckon. Viking Moses will be playing a low-key, more piano-based set, and BEAM’s stuff is absolutely gorgeous, as I pointed out to you a couple of days ago on this very blog. So yes, hope to see you there.

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Tryptamines

tryp I know I can be a bit of judgemental prick when it comes to this kind of thing, but when someone thrusts a copy of their vinyl into your hand at a record fair with a mumbled ‘you might think it’s shit but, er, yeah whatever’ and then shuffles off to the do the same for everyone else along the whole line of stalls, the they’re usually right. I usually will think it’s shit.

It’s always best to treat these things as guidelines rather than rules, however, and bear in mind that some of my favourite music has come from following up on the most half-arsed, ill-expressed emails I’ve ever read, so no matter what you’re expecting, always best to just have a listen anyway.

It took me a while, but I am glad this self-titled debut by Tryptamines found its way to me, because not only is it a really good album, but it’s one of those totally out of the blue surprises (I’ve not seen anyone else really covering this anywhere, or even anyone talking about it on social media) that makes you feel lucky to be one of the few who is actually paying it the proper attention.

There are seven songs on this album, all fairly long ones, and generally composed of low-key, trippy atmospheric stuff not a million miles away from the downbeat end of the Beta Band’s canon (I think – I’m actually not all that familiar with the Beta Band).

Some of this is woozy ambient soundscapes, some of it more upbeat, but it still reminds me a lot of the more indie end of the trip-hop movement which seemed to blossom in the nineties. The mixture of gorgeous cello and piano in songs like Absolutely Everything contrast really well with some of the more crackly, less organic moments and a little like BEAM (who I wrote about yesterday) it gives this a wonderfully warm and accessible feel.

Some of it may be odd, but it is never abrasively or awkwardly so. And it’s really beautifully executed too, none of this ‘lo-fi band finding their feet’ nonsense, the sound of the record is all wonderfully assembled and really nicely balanced.

Thank fuck I don’t pay attention to my own stupid prejudices, eh.

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BEAM

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 15.05.28 Instead of stalking young musicians on social media, this particular tip came to me the old-fashioned way: mentioned by a friend in the pub. Retro!

Amy MacDougall, who records as BEAM, will be playing what I think is one of her first Edinburgh shows on Friday at Henry’s supporting Viking Moses and Kathryn Joseph (tickets here, seriously, you should come along).

I think Amy might be better know for singing with other people, but that’s a bit of a disservice, because her own music is delicate and lovely. Not in that prissy way that some singer-songwriter stuff can be, just dreamy and gorgeous, with diaphanous* vocal loops providing an elusive sense of atmosphere and mystery. The loops themselves may be dreamy but when the lead vocal comes in it has more presence than you might expect, listening to the tracks build up.

The songs are all about texture and atmosphere, and are a gorgeous blend of organic and digital elements. There is cello (Pete Harvey once more, of The Leg, Cold Seeds, Bastard Mountain and Meursault fame – seriously, that boy gets everywhere), piano, a bit of guitar, Amy’s gorgeous voice, all drifting in and out of focus amongst a gently shifting digital landscape. It’s odd and elusive, but entirely welcoming. I know I’m into my awkward, slightly needly music these days, but this is really warm and generous and I like it for that.

So, Friday then. This is going to be excellent! BEAM will be onstage first – at 8pm – so if you want to catch her performance come down early.

*Seriously, fuck you, I write about music all the time and I never use that word. You’ve got to give it to me this once, surely. No? Seriously? Too far? Alright, maybe you have a point, sorry, what was I thinking. Seriously. ‘Diaphanous’. Who fucking uses words like that?

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Pennycress

pennycress More gems from my various social media feeds here, with a new Glasgow band I first found out about today: Pennycress.

Listening to the first couple of tracks it’s easy to think ‘ah right, they’re basically a punk band’, and quite an old school one at that. A lot of the songs on See Us Swell are like that – some just a bit more rapid and frantic than I would generally listen to I have to confess, but there’s a lot more going on here than that.

Fourth track Stopped & Stared borders on whimsical indie-pop, although a band with this kind of overall aesthetic might kill me for saying so (although the preceding tune All Might even has either sleigh bells or tambourine on it for fuck’s sake!), and closer Heavy Heart is really rather lovely… for a while at least. There’s other stuff in there too, like Waltz, which may still be intense and screamy but not quite at such a break-neck pace. This all may seem trivial, but it’s important, because it breaks up the sense of being vociferously berated about something you didn’t know you’d done.

The band tag themselves on Bandcamp as queer and I rather like that. I don’t know if this applies more broadly, but most of the music I’ve heard which uses that term has a belligerently unapologetic attitude to sexuality, and this is good. Fuck you to being expected to pussyfoot around this kind of thing – people need to get used to the idea that their opinions on other people’s sexuality are just fucking irrelevant and not being asked for (says he, veering dangerously close to expressing an opinion on other people’s sexuality) and I get the impression that people who use the term queer are generally a bit more forceful about that kind of thing.

Not least that more confrontational attitude seems to be bringing a lot of good punk back into the socio-political sphere, which is also something I like. F Fit, for example, sounds a bit like it’s basically saying ‘fuck you, yes I’m a feminist, and what?’ although I have to confess that it’s pretty hard to make out most of the lyrics on this.

Anyhow, musically this is intense. As I said, the few wee breaks you get are kind of needed, because the second you draw breath they are off again, battering and reeling off one two-minute gem (if that) after another. Eight songs, a little over a quarter of an hour, and that’s it. It’s not all squarely my cup of tea I guess – some of the most full-pelt punk songs have never been entirely my kind of thing – but in general this is really really good. And so full of piss and vinegar it’s impossible not to warm to.

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Psychic Soviets

psysov Ninety percent of the bands I’ve been writing about on Song, by Toad recently have been introduced to me in conversation with James from Passion Pusher, and this is another one. So you can add ‘unoriginal’ to ‘tedious, pompous and alcoholic’ when you tell people about Song, by Toad from now on.

Psychic Soviets is guitar music made by people who seem to like The Fall a lot. Personally, I’ve never really listened to The Fall (oh stop it, you only have one life, and only so many hours for listening to music) so I don’t know if that is an entirely fair point to make, but from what little I’ve heard of The Fall and of bands other people compare to The Fall, I think it’s probably fair to say.

I don’t mean that as an insult though. Generally when someone says ‘sounds a bit like The Fall’ they are talking about a band I really like, and pretty much all I ever mean by it is ‘jolting, shouty, and an awesome racket’. Which is what this is.

The bass brings order, the guitar stumbles drunkenly all over the place, and the singing is more a drunken harangue than a serenade of any sort, and it’s ace – raucous and energetic, but still kinda playful.

Given the crap Scotland seems, on aggregate, to embrace as its favourite music I am always amazed by the number of excellent bands who seem to just fire out free stuff on Bandcamp, never promote it, and never really get any recognition. But then, if that wasn’t how I felt about things then I guess I’d never have bothered starting a blog. Listen to this. It’s ace.

 

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Dune Witch Trials

dunewitchtrials There are some very, very good things happening in (mostly) Glasgow at the moment. Guitar music got lo-fi a few years ago, and now it’s not just lo-fi, it just doesn’t fucking care about anything and is prepared to tell you so aggressively and repeatedly.

Giving the impression that you’re bothering your arse even in the very slightest is anathema to this lot, it seems. Not that the music’s shite or that they can’t play or anything, but the whole aesthetic is just completely steeped in belligerent indifference.

Dune Witch Trials don’t have a lot of material, and although some of their tunes are outright hummable pop songs, they still have a fantastically throwaway feel to them – loose and rough, and energetic. The gents involved are actually part of Herbert Powell – apparently the best band in Glasgow at the moment, depending somewhat on who you ask, but these songs are structured a bit more in the classic pop tune vein, and I like them for that.

Drums, guitar, vocals – a riff, a quick solo, and over by the two-minute mark. Perfect.

As soon as I can I am going to start getting some of these guys through to Edinburgh to play. I’ve a lot of gigs already in the calendar, which I’ll have to work around, but in amongst this group of bands there are some real gems knocking around.

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Wendell Barton

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 14.34.19 Alright, I know I usually complain about people going apeshit over bands with no more than a song or two on the internet, so this will necessarily be a brief post as I really know nothing about these guys at all.

I found out about them late last night by stalking Passion Pusher on Facebook. His stream is a pretty much constant source of incomprehensible rambling and awesome music, and around half past midnight he mentioned this lot.

They’re from Aberdeen, they have one single song on Soundcloud, and from the sounds of it they could be really good. Unlike a lot of the stuff Passion Pusher introduces me to this has a chorus, is recorded pretty well and the band themselves sound coherent and together. It may sit well with a lot of the sloppier stuff I’ve been introduced to this way, but there is a really forceful rock sound to this which sets it apart somewhat.

I’ve not seen them live, and I know only this one song so I have very little frame of reference for what kind of a band they really are, but this is ace.

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Youngstrr Joey

joey I sit at my desk sometimes and really wonder what anyone within earshot actually makes of the music I listen to.

Youngstrr Joey is probably at the extreme end of that, not for noise or aggression, just sheer sloppy, out-of-tune chaos. Back when lo-fi was the thing everyone described music as in press releases whether it was lo-fi or not (i.e. about three years ago now, I guess) there was a constant debate about whether things sounded so rough because it was a stylistic conceit, or whether it was simply just the best the band knew how to do.

There’s something similar going on here. I’ve heard some of the guys involved in this sneering at the use of the word slacker, and I have some sympathy, because genre terminology is vague at best and both pointless and thoughtless at worst. Still, the ‘fuck it I can’t even be bothered acting like I am trying to sing’ attitude falls pretty squarely into that territory. It’s not so much slacker, which often felt passive and lazy, it’s aggressively slacker. There is an awful lot of ‘fuck you’ steeped in the drawl of these vocals and the choppy snarling of the guitar.

Even with my own taste in this stuff being pretty well-developed, some of this is pretty heavy going. It’s not stuff I would just slap on the stereo because hey, why not, but there is definitely pop music in there, albeit buried deeper than pretty much anywhere else. In that sense, although this is less narcoleptic, Youngstrr Joey has a fair bit in common with Passion Pusher, in whose band Cal Donnelly also plays.

For example, listening to the most determinedly unlistenable of the tunes on Bandcamp – Furry/Blurry for example – there is an almost completely buried but properly fucking brilliant guitar part growling away below the surface. There is a lot of this stuff around in Glasgow at the moment, mostly emanating from within a particular group of pals who seem to have gravitated towards one another, presumably for musical reasons.

I don’t know if it qualifies as stuff which is destined to break through to popularity anytime soon. Probably not. But there is pop music underpinning most of this and presumably someone somewhere will take all the piss and vinegar out of it and get famous replicating this kind of stuff. And I will lose all interest when they do.