Song, by Toad

Archive for the Video category

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Samantha Crain – Killer

Toad pal and musical favourite Samantha Crain has a new album out called Under Branch & Thorn & Tree (buy one here).  I haven’t covered the album on Song, by Toad yet, mainly because I don’t really write record reviews anymore, but it’s really good.

It’s been interesting watching Sam become more and more politically vocal on Facebook recently. It’s mostly US socio-political stuff rather than global geo-politics, and tends to cover a lot of the topics which have been in the news over the last couple of years, from the treatment of non-white people in the States to the more specific issues facing native people (she is Choctaw herself, I think).

I’ve also seen some folk have a dig at her here and there for being too much of an activist and not staying in the nice, neat box of ‘popular entertainer’. Personally I think it’s great though. Partly, if non-white people don’t speak up whenever they can, how is the fact that white voices dominate all media conversations ever going to be challenged. And partly, as a white, cis-gendered, hetero middle-class etc. male, how am I going to develop a better perspective on my own privilege if my non-white, non-male, non-hetero etc. etc. etc. friends don’t constantly point out things which my privilege might easily either cause me to underestimate or blind me to altogether. Personally, I am just grateful that she has the energy to keep talking about this stuff.

Protest music is a tricky one to tackle, post-Bono, but Sam describes this as her underdog album. From the press release:

“It focuses on every-day, small town life and the challenges of the working class who have lost their voice in today’s “one-percenter” society.

“The oligarchy we live under today is not the republic we were promised and it is important to see that and to take action,” said Crain.  “I’m not trying to win arguments, I just want to get people involved in the conversation.””

I remember some painfully contrived attempts at addressing the 9/11 attacks, and wondering if we could really produce proper protest music anymore, given how strongly we cling to irony, tangent and obliqueness in the lyrics of  fashionable music. It seemed like a straight, sincere protest album addressing current issues would simply seem too self-conscious and somehow naive these days.

Recently, though, with economic hardship and gross societal power imbalances nibbling away at the actual foundations of the Western civilisation it seems people can tackle this stuff and have it come out sounding ‘right’. I don’t know what the difference is. Maybe people are just so pissed off these days that they just don’t give a fuck, and that is what makes the music good. Given how little access people of colour have to dominant forms of mainstream media, music still feels to me like an important outlet for these voices, and it seems that more and more good stuff is emerging that is pissed off, unabashed and has something to say.

Good.

And finally, some more details on the video at the top of the page:

“Directed by Houston-based filmmakers Weston Getto Allen and Dorian Electra, the “Killer” video was inspired by Michael Brown, who was brutally gunned down on a Ferguson, MO street by police officer Darren Wilson, Freddie Gray’s “rough ride” in a Baltimore police van that led to his traumatic death, and John Crawford, shot by police in an Ohio Walmart while facing away from the officers, on his cell phone, holding a toy BB gun he had picked up off a store shelf.

“According to Allen and Electra, “‘Killer’ tells the story of Evan, an African American boy who dreams of becoming a police officer in order to better his community, but who is killed by the police because of the colour of his skin.”  The video stars Evan Horsley and was filmed in Houston’s Third Ward and at the historic African American Olivewood Cemetery in Houston.  Dating back to the 1870s, it was the first African American burial ground within Houston’s city limits, and was established on land that was formerly a graveyard for slaves.”

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New Garden of Elks Single

Garden of Elks – SWAP from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

The Garden of Elks debut album A Distorted Sigh is coming out on Song, by Toad Records in April, and this is the first single.

The video, like the song, cavorts joyously along for a couple of minutes and then packs it in – no fussing, no unnecessary embellishment, no fucking about. That’s pretty much what the album is like too, and that is why I love it.

We’re currently booking gigs around the UK for them to celebrate the release, and they’re playing Edinburgh and Glasgow with Broken Records for the Scottish launches. Pre-order the album on cassette or vinyl from here.

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Le Thug – launch night and vinyl delivery

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The vinyl for Le Thug’s gorgeous new EP Place Is has just turned up, and it looks AMAZING! The light in our kitchen isn’t ideal for taking pictures but I hope you get the idea. You can order a copy here, if you are suitably convinced.

The launch night is on Valentine’s Day at Summerhall (i.e. next Saturday), and tickets can be had here. We’re going to be in one of the steep-sided lecture theatres, and Ian will be doing some custom one-off visuals for the show. You know Ian – formerly of Song, by Toad Records and now more properly know as dashing young internet entrepreneur/jaded Nathan Barley figure of the Scottish media scene. He and his pal Jordan run Something Something, and made the rather fantastic video for Basketball Land, which has been doing the internet rounds recently and which I have embedded below.

I am away down to Manchester for a couple of days for family stuff, but I will post all of these off when I get back. Don’t they look ace? YIPPEE!

Le Thug – Basketball Land from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

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New Lady Lazarus Album on the Way

Wahay, some new Lady Lazarus material for you. And it’s kinda different too.

After two albums which made gorgeous use of the interplay between her beautiful singing voice and some really tense, uncomfortable arrangements, this new record is going to be much more centred around her vocals alone. Listening to the song above you can certainly hear that. It’s much more conventionally pretty than previous stuff, but Melissa Ann Sweat’s voice is just so bloody nice I think I could listen to her sing a takeaway menu and still enjoy it.

One of the best things about her, I think, is that she absolutely never over-sings. I’ve complained about Angel Olsen doing this before, and it generally annoys the shit out of me. When you have a wonderful voice, it speaks for itself, there is absolutely no need to perform needless gymnastics, and that is one of the great strengths of the vocals in Lady Lazarus material: clean, clear, understated and lovely.

The piano also features really strongly, so there is a familiar sense of minimalism to the music, although obviously a rather more organic sound.  I will write more about the album closer to the time, but I suppose at this point I might just make a quick comparison to, say, maybe Laura Viers to help give something of an impression of what to look forward to.

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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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Emily Edrosa – Animal

I have to confess that when I first saw the subject line of this email I thought ‘oh fuck, another tediously earnest singer-songwriter’ and very nearly just deleted it unread. Still, no matter how judgemental I am, I do have a policy of trying to listen to absolutely everything which gets sent through, so I clicked on the video link despite my misgivings and figured I’d give it a go.

At first I thought it must be playing too fast, I have to confess. The rhythm is just weird, and stays weird throughout the song actually, never really seeming to fit with the rest of the tune. It’s great though, pacy and reckless and that mismatch between the rhythm section and the relatively laconic delivery of the vocals is absolutely brilliant when you get your head round it.

This is part of an EP, apparently, so we can look forward to more in the very near future I would hope. And this is why I try and listen to everything, no matter what I think of the email: my tendency to make snap judgements may be vigorous, but it clearly isn’t very accurate.

Bandcamp page is here.

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Brown Brogues – You Don’t Know

Brown Brogues – You Don’t Know from HAUS OF PINS on Vimeo.

I know I don’t usually carpet bomb you with posts about the same damn thing on absolutely every form of media I use, but well, this is just too splendid not to. This video is for a song from Brown Brogues‘ split Cassette Store Day release with Eternal Summers, and it is sheer, joyous genius.

The video absolutely sums up why I think Brown Brogues epitomise what DIY music should be. It’s simple and I would imagine easy enough to actually do (assuming you can find a primary school cavalier enough to let those two idiots anywhere near their pupils, that is), and it’s done in a pretty fast-and-loose, straightforward way too. There is nothing here that anyone else couldn’t do, it’s just that more often than not we don’t.

Any arse can make a video, these days.  Just as any arse can draw their own t-shirts, make their own artwork, dream up daft and weird ideas for playing gigs in weird spaces and in interesting ways. It all can be done, relatively cheaply too, but that’s not enough. You need ideas. You need a genuine personality. And you need to be prepared to persevere and make it work.

I love their music, of course, I suppose that goes without saying given the number of times I’ve mentioned them on the blog, but I really admire the way these lads go about their work too. Brown Brogues, we salute you, you great big mental geniuses you. For more of their stuff, have a look at our recent Toad Session with the band.

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“Lifers” – Mini Documentary

This is a really nice wee documentary about professionalism within the music industry which I was interviewed for a while back. There’s lots of good stuff in there, and it’s pretty brief too, so you’ve no excuse not to watch the whole lot. Made by the excellent Alex Watson – thanks Alex!

I’ve not really expressed this thought before, but one of the points I make in the video doesn’t get discussed that often.  I was asked about the continuing importance of labels and I had this to say, more or less:

Labels are still hugely important. They have experience releasing records, an audience of their own, and they have contacts and a reputation within the industry which is crucial. Where labels’ role is changing is that they no longer control the relationships and processes which make the most money.

As labels have less cash, bands are increasingly recording their own albums or funding the recording themselves and that means they control all their own copyrights. As publishing becomes an increasingly important revenue stream, that means that the money flows between the band and their publisher and the label often has little to do with it. Most labels have no way of involving themselves in live revenues either, and if a band can afford to do it, they generally (and should) control their own merch too, and the profit margins there can be decent as well. 

Consequently if you’re just licensing someone else’s intellectual property, manufacturing it and announcing its release, it’s actually a relatively limited financial model you have to operate within as a modern independent label.

And there you go, that’s today’s wee thought to chew on, if you’re of a mind to ponder the inner rumblings of the music industry in the 21st Century.

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New Monoganon and Yusuf Azak Videos

Videos are pretty much the new singles these days, which makes for something of an odd circle. Singles were just singles, then they were videos because of MTV, and then MTV stopped doing music so they became mp3s, then they became streams as the technology caught up, and then people realised that a stream pays nothing whereas YouTube pay at least token royalties so they became videos again. All of which makes it rather frustrating how bad we are at actually making them for our own releases. I am just not a maker of music videos I guess, so it’s harder to embrace that ‘just get the fuck on with it’ ethic we try and live by when it involves asking for favours from other people.

One technique I’ve seen embraced rather a lot is using stock and archive footage and editing it together to fit the song. We’ve done it before ourselves, and Yusuf Azak has done the same thing for the new song Silver Rose (below), which is the first single from his new album Peace in the Underworld, out now on vinyl on Gerry Loves Records. The album will be instantly familiar to all fans of Yusuf’s previous work – his voice pretty much guarantees that – but there is a lot more use of drums, electronics and drum machines on this record.

Monoganon (above) released one of my favourite Scottish albums of 2013 (and along with Sparrow and the Workshop and The Pictish Trail were criminally overlooked by the SAY Awards nomination panel) and have also just released a new video. Not a new song, this is from that album, which is called Family and is available on vinyl from Lost Map Records. It’s basically a fuzzy indie album in the early-nineties sort of vein, if you want a hyper-superficial one-line description, but the melodies are ace throughout and the album as a whole is a fantastic listen. Grumbly but warm.

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New Deathcats Video: Danny Dyer

Is it fair to call this my favourite tune on the new Deathcats album? I think so – it’s certainly there or thereabouts anyway.

With tunes like this, I Wish it Was Summer and TROLL TROLL you wouldn’t call Deathcats the most cerebral band out there at the moment, but they can probably out-fun most stuff coming out of Scotland at the moment. But they aren’t just a superficial good-time band of course, and their last EP, The Raddest (buy here), gave a pretty good idea of the band’s breadth, inhabiting a territory which spanned catchy-as-fuck surf rock through to nasty psychedelic instrumentals.

I’ve not listened to it extensively yet, but the new album sounds like it’s taken a turn for the nasty, after that early stuff. There’s a lot more of the aforementioned psychedelic instrumental meandering, for example, all with a nice, nasty rumble throughout, and the rock songs are sounding really fucking horrible – in a good way of course. But I’ll have more to say about that once I’ve had the chance to have a really good listen.

In the meantime, however, here’s a listen to their fantastic new single Danny Dyer and if you like it, which you should, then you can pre-order the album here, which you should.

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