Song, by Toad

Archive for the Unsigned category

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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.

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Spinning Coin

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.57.15 Usually when someone whinges at me for not writing about their music more often the response is polite on the surface but pretty much just ‘fuck off’ in my head.

When it comes to Sean Armstrong’s stuff, however, he has a point. I really like pretty much all of the things he’s been involved in, from The Yawns, to his solo stuff, and more recently Passion Pusher and Velma Helma, but actually haven’t written about all that much of it.

Part of the reason for this is that a lot of it is recorded on the equivalent of a mobile phone microphone and there is no getting around the fact that just doesn’t do the tunes justice. There’s lo-fi and there’s a camera phone too close to the PA at a gig, and even I draw the line there.

Part of my frustration is that when recorded properly, the songs sound as good as this. This is from a four-song cassette out soon on Winning Sperm Party, an awesome wee Glasgow label who have worked with a few bands you should know already, like Gummy Stumps and Monoganon. This too is guitar music, and it’s still pretty lo-fi, but there is plenty of rocking out here and it has a fantastic looseness and enthusiasm about it.

The tune below, the one chosen to publicise the release, is perhaps the most Yawnsy of the whole EP, but my personal favourites are the far more aggressive Hanging Gown and Late Late Late. They’re just… I dunno, purposeful maybe. Late Late Late is fucking gleeful.

MORE PLEASE!

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Dearness – Accidental Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steve Adey and Grand Harmonium Records

I remember when I first started this blog… actually, hang on, when I first started this blog I lived down South and was just writing about bands I read about in Uncut and bought in HMV, so let’s quietly pretend that era never existed and that I was always an aspiring super-obscure music hipster.

Even when I first turned the site into an actual blog a couple of years later, in Edinburgh by this point, I still had little idea that there was quite so much music being made all around me in this city. Nor that so much of it was worth paying attention to. I suppose I just never realised that much like football or acting, the professional music world we see before us is just the tiny tip of a massive, massive iceberg, and that supporting and feeding that tiny visible chunk bobbing about above the waterline, is a vast mass of people working away, from those with aspirations to the top to those who just dabble because they love it and everything in between.

As it slowly began to dawn on me that music I love was actually being made all around me, and that I didn’t really need to look to the glossies or the megastores to find it, possibly the first local enterprise I came across was Steve Adey and his label, Grand Harmonium Records.

His music is slow and downbeat, probably fitting into that ‘gloriously morose’ category you know I have such a soft spot for. However, having first written about him so long ago that the post only just missed being lost in my Great Database Debacle of 2007, my attention subsequently veered into much louder territory, and I have to confess I’ve inadvertently taken my eye off his stuff for a while now.

These new recordings have sorted that out though – they’re gorgeous. They remind me an awful lot of the latest Ed Harcourt album actually – another gloriously morose piano playing singer-songwriter. Filmed in Buccleuch Church in the Southside of Edinburgh, the setup is completely minimal: Steve and a piano, and Helena MacGilp on drums and backing vocals. It’s gorgeous. It’s easy to imagine all sorts of things being added to these songs, but they just don’t need it. The minimalism allows you to concentrate on every drum, every piano note and every rise and fall of the vocals.

Five of what will apparently be ten songs have been published on his YouTube channel already, and I am very much looking forward to the rest appearing. And honestly, I think this collection of recordings really does deserve its own release despite the fact that the songs themselves are all from his last album.

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Strange Lords

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This is fucking brilliant. I was sent it in July last year, and it only appear on the site now, six months later, but so the fuck what. I’m just glad I didn’t miss it altogether.

Waylon Thornton you might remember from his solo work, as well as stuff with Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands. He does a lot of stuff, as a look at that Bandcamp page will show you, so I don’t always love all of it and in fact I don’t always get to hear all of it, but since the very first time I wrote about his work I realised very quickly that if he emails me about a new release I should pay attention because mostly they are absolutely fucking excellent.

This is a collaboration with Andrew Seward, and it’s pretty basic: Waylon plays guitar, Andrew drums, and pretty much every second of this recording is bloody great. It’s just loose, fierce psyche-rock, and it’s entirely instrumental, and that’s it. Case closed, fucking awesome, thanks very much.

The music sounds nasty as fuck too, but actually it’s not all that nasty a collection of sounds. Thornton’s guitar used to sound absolutely fucking filthy on his early stuff, but this is pretty clean, it’s just what he’s playing that makes it nasty.

Maybe because it’s instrumental and that’s all there is to focus on there is none of the just plain chugging along that this kind of music can be a little prone too. No singing, no chorus, so it all has to come from the two instruments, and believe me it very much does.

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My Invisible Friend

mif Given the musical disconnect between the UK and a lot of our European neighbours, I am always slightly curious when we seem to see eye to eye on certain genres. Britain and Sweden are indiepop cousins, for example, and our mutual love of excruciatingly pretentious atmospheric cinemascapes brings us and Iceland wonderfully close together. Germany seems to embrace our glum side, we and France vaguely agree on electro-pop and for some inexplicable reason, we seem to be pretty in sync with Italy when it comes to shoegaze.

I have no idea why this is, but generally when I have heard Italian bands I have liked, they have been shoegaze ones. This is another example: My Invisible Friend, from Parma.

I would say that, vocals aside, they don’t sound a million miles away from Hookworms, but then Hookworms themselves are very classically krauty-shoegaze I guess, so I suppose that would be crediting them with inventing something they didn’t really invent. I also hear bits of a rather less frantic, nasty Ringo Deathstarr too, but I suppose the band don’t sound much like them either, so don’t ask me why these sideways comparisons sprang to mind, they just did.

Shoegaze like this does something different for me than other music, I think. It inspires the slowest possible head banging – just this slow, quasi-spiritual rocking back and forth with a bit of a head-peck at the end of each forward tilt for emphasis.

It’s not rough or distorted like a lot of British shoegaze-inspired stuff I’ve been listening to recently, but it certainly strikes the right balance between sludgey noise, and meandering guitar solos and dreamy vocals in the upper register to cut through the fog. Really good.

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Krill – Lucky Leaves

krill Krill (I think it’s just one guy) seems to be doing pretty well in the States, with features in Stereogum and Pitchfork and some high-profile support slots to their name, but they still feel like a fledgling band just finding their way.

Their Bandcamp page suggests that they’ve been around for a couple of years now, but there’s something about the sound and the scornful, snarled self-excoriation of the lyrics which seems to suggest youth finding its first, unbridled musical expression of all sorts of previously buried things.

Although maybe my impression has more to do with the people who pointed me in the direction of the band, who are in their late teens themselves, and maybe I put two and two together and got five.

There’s a lot of cripplingly awkward slop rock knocking around my stereo at the moment, a lot of it so belligerently disinterested as to head off questions about quality or musicianship before they can even be formed.  This has a little in common with that stuff, I suppose, in that it has a fiercely snarled, nasal quality which perhaps heads off the judgementalism in a slightly different way, but nevertheless has the same effect.

It may have elements of self-pity in the lyrics, with Sick Dogs line about simply wanting to wallow in his own guilt being a prime example, but the ferocity of the delivery brings such venom to the sentiment that it doesn’t feel much like self-indulgent navel-gazing. It does get a bit intense at times, tipping just over into shrieking at times, like the rather annoying tail end of Infinite Power, but mostly it’s comfortably on the right side of that particular line.

Sick Dogs and the two which follow, Purity of Heart and This Morning, are maybe the ones which took me beyond the aesthetic and the intensity of the delivery into the tunes themselves, for there are pop songs here, buried beneath the apoplexy.

I didn’t think so at first – I basically just heard the attitude and the way it is spat out – but this is a fantastic album. Headphones and three hours at Heathrow fucking airport can have a really good effect on your ability to take proper time to let an album sink in. And this album is most definitely worth taking the time with.

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