Song, by Toad

Archive for the Unsigned category

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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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Hot Lunch – Drew Bought a Computer

hotlunch Yet more garage rock for me (irrespective of the actual presence or otherwise of a real life garage in the making of this music), and I suppose me liking this album is going to surprise absolutely no-one, but ummm… well it’s really good, so you should have a listen.

The band apparently broke up several years ago, but these recordings are only now making their way onto Bandcamp so for me they’re basically new releases.

The internet may often be criticised for providing us with a near-infinite ‘long tail’ of shit which no-one will ever listen to or ever even notice is there. Technically I suppose this would be covered by that, as would a fair bit of the stuff we release ourselves, but one man’s irrelevance is another man’s undiscovered gem, and this is why I love the internet sometimes.

I’d hesitate to call this experimental, although it meanders all over the place and seems to care pretty much nil for traditional song structures or even emotional arcs. It’s more… carefree. It just heads off in whatever direction it pleases and stops when it’s done.

You might not even call this an album really, in the sense that it doesn’t feel like it has much of a purpose beyond to indulge the whims of its creators. That might be a weakness, but it feels like it is also one of its best features to me. That playfulness rather obviates the need for any more structure – it’s the raison d’être of the album all by itself, and if you want to follow where it is going, then you simply have to embrace it.

There will be times when you wonder what the fuck they’re getting at I suppose, such as the stumbling, distracted intro to (Here Comes) the Rounded One, although the song does get itself together by the end. Sort of.

Instrumental opener The Secret of the Ooze is a bit more focussed, and it may be a bit off, but the guitar licks in that song are fantastic.

I suppose this is distracted, kind of psychedelic garage rock, and it’s the distractions which will either make it special to you or turn you off the album completely. Personally, I think it’s fucking ace.

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Alex G – Trick

alexgtrick This album was released two years ago on a now-defunct record label, but you can still find copies here if you want. I only just happened across it myself, so I am decreeing it entirely new for the purposes of Toad, just in case me writing about slightly old music bothers you at all.

I always assume people who describe their music in as half-arsed a fashion as this (“pop dick fuck hot nice pussy shit xxx Philadelphia”) are just bedroom noodlers with little or no interest in getting their music out there, but Alex Giannascoli has done pretty well at getting noticed by some very credible people indeed. I suppose I should learn not to judge the artist by the front presented by their aesthetic.

Admittedly this can get a bit soft around the edges at times – something of a Diet Eliot Smith on tracks like Forever if I was to be purposefully harsh about it – but for the most part this is, if not eccentric, a distinct take on a familiar format. It’s slacker bedroom pop, with a bit of thrum going on, but it feels like its own animal.

You don’t get hooks here per se, more shifts and diversions which repeat and then change, more like a flock of birds than anything else – you can never be sure if you’ll get an endlessly repeating pattern or a sudden dart towards somewhere different. It feels airy and light too, as a record.

So having finally found this one, I see Alex has a new album out, which you can buy here, and reviews from the Quietus and fucking Pitchfork as well. Boy is my finger ever not on the pulse these days.

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S>C>R>A>P>S – O/s

scraps I actually happened across this Australian band called s>c>r>a>p>s (yes, that is the last time I am ever typing that fucking name out in full) by searching for another Australian band called Scraps, who happen to have an excellent record out at the moment on the fantastic Bedroom Suck label.

Instead, I found this scraps, and for all they are very much not what I was looking for, I really liked what I found. Another band with a flair for fucking with Bandcamp tags, this lot throw the terms ‘slow-dance romance, hypno-jog fantasy, top of the pops, granny porn, dick van dork and mary ploppins’ at the wall and, in all honesty, for the most part they all kinda stick to a degree.

The music is certainly hypnotic, in a slightly frantic sort of way. It has a manic energy which seems to be stretching the songs in all sort of directions, stumbling over trying to get them out fast enough to be able to move onto something else.

Then there are other times when it seems to just be wandering along as if it’s lost, the continuous rattle of the tinny beat the only thing holding such a loose collection of sounds together closely enough to refer to it as a song. Peeling Chestnuts doesn’t just feel barely-realised, it feels barely-conceived. The tiniest fragment of an idea just tottering along waiting to be forgotten or flung into proper existence, but managing neither.

Frankfurter Alle is underpinned by some gloriously foreboding organ, but You Won’t Miss Me is another skitterer, twitching around like a panicking house pet.

They can write gorgeous stuff when they want to though. Siri is fucking lovely, for example, and the strings lend it a sense of emotional weight which is welcome, and knowing that this kind of thing could emerge at any point almost makes the more frantic moments all the more tantalising.

It’s as if you’ve glimpsed the perch, the pose and the plumage, but for now the damn bird insists on flapping around the room in a deranged panic, steadfastly refusing to either sit still or to find the open window and escape back to where it belongs.

A weird record, and a complete accident, but in between the baffling moments there is some great stuff here.

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Body Cheetah – Raking the Wind

bodycheetah I think I happened across this on Tumblr by accident a little while ago. It was described as beautifully weird, and you know me well enough by now to know that that pretty much means a guaranteed click from myself.

I don’t think my taste in music is really challengingly odd, of course, but I do prefer things with just a hint of weird in them somewhere. It’s like garlic – it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but it’s tough to do anything interesting without it.

As more and more excited musicians have plied me with increasingly weird shit over the years I have to confess I think I’ve lost track of what a normal person might consider to be weird music.

There’s certainly something rather unnerving about one of the loveliest songs on the album being called Banging My Head Against the Dresser.

In general though, this doesn’t seem all that weird to me. The guitars kind of whoosh around you, lurching a little as they go. Piano parts meander about considering aimlessness for a bit before sorting themselves out. But all in all in amongst the delay and the slightly incongruous beats, this is a rather lovely record.

The vocals are possibly the weirdest part, I suppose. They seem almost like samples being chopped up, layered and played back, occasionally at the wrong speed. It’s not stuff we’ve never come across before, but the contrast of the unsettling vocal flights of fancy and the staccato, off time percussive sounds gives this a strange atmosphere.

It doesn’t seem to know if it’s an ethereal album of dreamy, treated vocals or a choppy one of off-rhythms and awkward percussion. It took a while for the two to blend together in my head I must confess. I found the discordance a little distracting, but once I settled into it I began to really like this album.

It is odd, I think. Having taken ages to decide, I think it definitely is. And that’s a good thing. Get a digital copy here; there doesn’t appear to be a physical release.

 

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Becky Becky – Good Morning, Midnight

becky It’s rare that I write about synthy discopop really, but I suppose that’s because most of it leaves me pretty cold. Silver Columns stick in my head as the last time I properly got enthusiastic about this kind of stuff I suppose, and that was fucking ages ago.

It’s an interesting connection though, because Pete (one half of Becky Becky) released some bits and pieces on Fence Records years ago under the name of Art Pedro. It was ramshackle as fuck, but I loved it, and he actually emailed me about this project years ago but I have to confess I never quite got into it.

The other half of the band is Gemma from the now-retired Woodpecker Wooliams project, and perhaps it was her odd but hugely compelling voice which gave me something familiar to latch onto with the Becky Becky stuff. Well that and having it on casual rotation for a long while. Slowly this stuff creeps up on you, you know.

I am not sure why this stands out above all the other similar stuff I don’t like. Perhaps tunes like I Remember, I Remember… don’t try too hard to grab your attention, but succeed despite this. Maybe its the slight theatricality – tunes like The House of the Black Madonna for example. It’s dark without being dense or try-hard, and I suppose just moody and dismissive enough to not just fall into that ‘oh fuck, not another synth-pop album’ trap which so much of this stuff ends up in for me.

Gemma’s voice has a weird knack of being elusive, vulnerable and confrontational at the same time, and this meshes well with the music itself here, which can embrace full-on disco-pop cliché for a while and then subtly drift into something more muffled and odd. It’s like an image which drifts slightly out of focus during the very times you most want it to be clear.

You can get a copy on CD or mp3 from their Bandcamp page, here. It really does leave me wondering why I didn’t properly pay attention the first time.

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Threes and Will & Huerequeque – Blue Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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