Song, by Toad

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Seabuckthorn – They Haunted Most Thickly

seabuckthorn Instrumental music is a tricky one for me.  I am very much not an intellectual when it comes to listening to music, and you’ll never rarely hear me overanalysing something because in general I don’t have the tools to do it – I certainly don’t have the vocabulary of serious musical analysis, that’s for sure.

Basically, as regular readers of the blog will know, I operate on the basis of ‘I like this and this is why I think I do’. Sometimes though, particularly with instrumental stuff, I can find I like something because it has the right sort of sound and I’ve stopped paying attention halfway through and kind of assumed it was good, then I listen back a while later and find it really hasn’t managed to hold my attention in the long run. And that’s why I’ve waited so long to actually write about this album.

In terms of ‘sounds which Toad enjoys’ it’s right there. A lot of plucked acoustic guitars complemented by deep, ominous rumblings of cello and other droney instruments. It’s a bloody great counterpoint, and just as an overall observation, the general sound and tone of the album is absolutely gorgeous. It is the shimmering, beautiful soundtrack to a movie you can only imagine, and actually it does a pretty fine job of making you imagine it. Even the cover itself seems more like a movie still than album artwork.

It reminds me, actually, of the score British Sea Power composed for Man of Aran, not musically, but very much in the sense that this music would fit that film beautifully (preview on YouTubebuy a copy). Although maybe that was rather planted in my mind by the cover photograph. It still works though!

I suppose when there are no lyrics the overall pacing and rise and fall of the mood become ever-more important, and Seabuckthorn (which I think is more or less just the stage name of a guy called Andy Cartwright) manage that really well. This music can be quite ambient and peaceful, but there is a dark sense of brooding throughout which can either recede into mere atmospherics or push its way to the fore, bringing with it a sense of malevolence and tension which is genuinely gripping.

The vinyl has just arrived too, after months of delays, so if you order one now it should turn up fairly promptly. And boy does it look pretty!

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Making a Music Video For Adam Stafford

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(Photo by Rob O’Donnell – more here if you fancy a gander.)

I don’t mean to imply that Song, by Toad Records is in any way a half-arsed, cowboy operation at all. Totally not in any way whatsoever. But, erm. Well.

Well we’ve spent the last couple of days shooting a video in our house for the next Adam Stafford single Phantom Billions (fortunately for me, Mrs. Toad vanished to Berlin within twelve hours of the circus descending) and it’s been, er, instructive. This is a pretty tiny skeleton crew working on a bare-bones budget and by comparison to everything else we do it’s like the fucking CIA swooping in and saying ‘this is above your pay grade sheriff, we’ll take it from here’. Not that they have, they’ve been lovely, but I’ve had an amusing couple of days.

It’s weird, at the moment music and video are as unified as they have ever been, really, even including the MTV era. Trailer clips for albums, embedded Facebook lyric videos which autoplay, people exclusively using YouTube to listen to actual music. It’s funny, the music video almost died out, then came back as digital DIY fever took hold, but in the last year or so it’s exploded as almost all social media feeds have started to fanatically emphasise the visual, presumably as a way of arresting your attention as much as possible.

We have most of the equipment required to make at least a passable DIY video for our releases, but not really the ideas, nor the expertise to execute anything with any real level of ability. It would show, too. I mean, we could make something reasonable enough, and we might get lucky being charming, funny or just weird, but film-making is a serious technical and creative skill and just bodging it will catch up with you in the end.

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The thing is, most of our albums are pretty DIY too, the main difference being that we are actually starting to know what we are doing with the limited tools at our disposal. And we are starting with excellent material too: the ideas and the musicianship are all in place already. Still, most of the albums we’ve ever released on this label were made by a team of, what, maybe half a dozen people at most, including the band themselves.

So it’s a bit odd to be faced with a team of film crew who are all actual, proper professionals, with production meetings, planning, equipment (admittedly mostly borrowed, because SbT is a cheap-as-fuck label) and just generally what appears to be an idea, a team, a plan, and the skills and experience to execute it. When I think of the cack-handed trial-and-error approach with which we started the label, and which still permeates almost everything we do to this day, it’s a bit surreal and kind of funny to think that this one video is being done better and more professionally than pretty much anything we have ever been involved with.

It’s almost shameful really, all these competent people working hard on a shoestring budget in the service of an album made by four people and released on a label run by one. Ah well, if you knock together a good website these days you can fool a lot of people I guess!

I don’t really have much clue what they’ve up to, either. I figured fuck it, they seem to know what they’re doing. And from the still above it looks pretty ace already.

Adam’s new album Taser Revelations is out on the 14th March on vinyl and CD (pre-order here), his album launch show is at Summerhall on the 11th March, and the vinyl looks approximately this pretty. In fact, it looks almost exactly this pretty:

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And here’s the first single, Atheist Money:

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The Grey Estates & Negative Fun Records Present: Sugar Rush

sugarrush After yesterday’s rather joyful album of love song covers on Fuzzkill Records, here’s another covers compilation. It’s not themed or for charity this time, it’s just good. Lo-fi, outsider pop bands covering a spectrum of tunes from pop classics like Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac and Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer to more recent, underground fare like Riot Grrl by Keel Her. There are songs by Violent Femmes, The Cramps and Blink 182 in there too; it’s a really odd mix.

Honestly, I know a lot of people find tapes a fucking hassle, and it’s true that it is a pretty contrived format, and one which is genuinely obsolete and being kept alive rather artificially, but I still love them. I like making tapes, I like mixing in the new stuff with all the old tapes I used to make, and I really like the limited, closed off playlist unlike the ones I make on Spotify, YouTube or Soundcloud which can end up being six hours long.

I don’t commute, but I do a lot of relatively long distance driving as you know, and tapes are still by far the best thing for the car, fuck your iPhones. Also, cassette players are cheap as balls on eBay these days, and we now have one permanently installed in the kitchen. This is a bit of personal nostalgia I have to confess, but again, Mrs. Toad and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I like having that deliberately limited, familiar set of music there to listen to, rather than everything ever recorded in the whole world ever.

And this will soon be added to that collection!

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Fuzzkill Records – Under the Covers Vol.2

fuzzFirst things first, this whole album is utterly ridiculous, and absolute shit-ton of fun, and therefore fucking great. It’s also being released to support Greater Maryhill Foodbank and Refugee Action, so your cash is going to a good place.

The album was released around Valentine’s Day I think, or at least the image seems very much to imply that, what with the roses and the actual contents of the album and all. For this is a massive who’s who of the Glasgow underground music scene taking classic love songs and basically sticking a thumb up their collective arses and cackling at the squawk of distress.

Classics are rendered angry, sloppy, growly and at times you can hear that the band have barely even learned the song. It’s a great big silly mess of a tape, and yet it’s really good. Why? Well I reckon for two reasons. Firstly the songs themselves are classics, and secondly it’s all done in such good humour. Who cares how daft this gets, some of the takes are absolutely excellent, some are just hilarious, and y’know, music should be fun shouldn’t it?

So vote for fun, contribute to a good cause and enjoy some of the most highly improbable cover songs you’re ever likely to hear.

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Warehouse Gig: Tim the Mute, Juffage and Hostel Freaks

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Mrs. Toad and I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks clearing out the warehouse and making it fit for human habitation. We’ve even installed a wood-burning stove and got some lights in there which aren’t the face-melting halogens which were installed when we bought the place.

Anyhow, our pal Tim is visiting from Vancouver, so we thought we’d put on a wee gig in there to celebrate its being pretty much ready and finished… a mere two years after we first moved into the house: Friday 26th February, £5 entry, 7pm start, BYOB. The warehouse is down in Leith, and I’ll email address details once you buy a ticket, rather than sticking up our address on the internet*.





Tim is performing under the banner of Tim the Mute. He runs Kingfisher Bluez Records in Vancouver and released the Adam Stafford record over there last time around, as well as a ton of other really good stuff (top tip, if you listen to nothing else on the label: Allison Crutchfield) including excellent Scottish acts Rick Redbeard and Ballboy. Here’s Tim the Mute’s latest release for those who fancy a bit of a preview.

Joining Tim will be Leeds-based, American-raised Jeff T. Smith, better known as Juffage. He played a show for us last year at Henry’s and it was awesome, as you can be confident this will also be. Also on the bill, a new Edinburgh band – well, solo act really, I think – called Hostel Freaks. It’s sort of depressed electronica washed out with that sort of early-morning jet-lag feeling.

So come along, it will be fun. Just don’t wreck the place, now we’ve finally got it all tidied up!

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Out Now: Plastic Animals – Pictures From the Blackout

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Well as you’ve probably guessed by now, Plastic Animals’ debut album Pictures From the Blackout is being released this week, and you can buy one here. It is a very good album. I like it a lot. I am excited. Not a massive shock there, then, given it’s my record label. The launch night last weekend was awesome, and massive thanks are owed to Frog who also played a blinder.

We’ve had some cracking writeups of the album so far too: “Pictures from the Blackout is certainly a record that will reward the patient listener” from The List, “a blend which proves intoxicating” from The Skinny, “A debut album for the band to be proud of” on 17 Seconds, and a giddily excited “I’ll be very surprised if this debut album from Plastic Animals doesn’t finish up on many an end of year, best of lists. It is simply that immense” on The Sound of Confusion.

So yep, there you go, you’re welcome! Some slow-burning, slightly krauty, psychey, dreamy, shoegazey guitar rock for you. And if that isn’t fucking hipster music description buzzword bingo I don’t know what is.

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Fuzzkill Records March On With Spinning Coin and The Bullybuttons

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In terms of actual releases I think I would say that Fuzzkill Records have probably been my favourite label in Scotland over the last couple of years. They’ve out out all sorts of rough and ready guitar music, largely nineties-tinged, and with a real sense of energy and freedom. There have been sampler compilations, covers compilation, and EP after EP, mostly on tape, of the most promising new bands in Scotland. Their contribution to our fantastic David Cameron’s Eton Mess 12″ vinyl compilation which we released last November was absolutely invaluable.

While I was away in the States and not paying much attention to life back home they released new EPs by The Bellybuttons and Spinning Coin, both of which are well worth your time. Spinning Coin have just signed to Geographic Music, a label which I believe is run out of Monorail by Stephen Pastel and is a subsidiary of Domino, which bodes very well for their future indeed.

You hear the work of what I think is three different songwriters on their new self-titled EP, from the louche pop of Sean Armstrong to the frantic screaming of Cal Donnelly, but it still holds together really well. All this stuff has a real nineties indie feel to it, loose guitars, drawled vocals, but the tunes are fucking good like all of Fuzzkill’s stuff, there’s a real pop sensibility behind the rough and ready exterior.

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Infinity Girl

ig I went to fewer gigs than I anticipated while I was in New York late last year. Mrs. Toad doesn’t really like them, and we tended to spend our time exploring together, so it just didn’t happen all that much.

I turned forty years old while I was out there and was pretty pleased at the idea of spending my fortieth in New York City, not for any specific reason of course because we barely pay even the slightest attention to birthdays, but just because it felt like a nice landmark for such a memorable trip. Mrs. Toad happened to be away that particular week though, so what did I do? I went to Baltimore for the night instead, of course.

Brendon from Viking Moses lives down there and he’s become a pal over the last couple of years, and by sheer coincidence he just happened to be hosting a gig that night, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop down and visit.

Ironically enough, however, for me the standout band on the bill that night were a Brooklyn band called Infinity Girl. They remind me a little of Plastic Animals in a sense, although they’re a little heavier, whereas Plastic Animals are a bit more metronomic. They’re indie rock though, shoegazey and rocky in some ways, but perhaps more melodic than you might expect given that description.

It was great to watch live. It would be racket racket racket racket, and then suddenly this nasty riff would appear in the middle of it – one of the best balances between volume and melody I’ve seen in a while. They’ve been around for a few years now too, and there are actually a couple of albums to have a listen to on their Bandcamp page. Have a go.

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Sonny Smith – Sees All Knows All

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.24.26 If you pick your albums carefully whilst delving into Sonny Smith’s back catalogue you wouldn’t necessarily know that he was absolutely one hundred percent batshit insane, but I think he probably is.

You could look at his output for (the brilliant) Fat Possum Records and think that he does nice, borderline pastiche retro-pop, and he sort of does. Or he can. That stuff isn’t exactly bad either – I absolutely fucking love Hit After Hit, for example, which I think I once characterised as ‘Hill Valley 1955 doesn’t give a fuck’.

It’s a silly term, but it sort of makes sense. It has that milkshakes and drive-ins charm, but it’s delivered in a way which is just ever so slightly off. A bit slacker, a bit lazier, a bit deviant… I’m not sure what it is, but I fucking love it. But that’s a million miles away from this, which is nuttier than squirrel shite.

The first inkling I got as to how much creative energy Smith had, and the first time I started to realise quite how far he liked to deviate from the three-minute pop song, was the gloriously ambitious, utterly ridiculous, and brilliantly realised 100 Records Project. The idea was quite simple: 100 artists design covers for 100 fictional singles by 100 fictional bands, and Sonny Smith then made the actual songs – 200 of the fucking things because he did b-sides as well – to make these fictional bands a reality. Albeit a rather twisted reality.

The first I heard of Smith at all was his involvement in the glorious Earth Girl Helen Brown, which is one of the bands which emerged from the 100 Records project.

That whole EP is fucking glorious, but while there are some cracking pop tunes on there, there is also just a little bit of oddness, like this for example. What else emerged into the world from the 100 Records project was a little more straightforward though, and I didn’t think about it all that much until pretty much the entire thing became available on three volumes of cassette tape, of which I bought the lot. Broke Artist, which also makes an appearance on Sees All Knows All, was on one of those along with various other digressions, experimentations and the odd cracking, hummable wee gem.

So while you might be a bit shocked by this album if you’ve followed Sonny Smith’s more commercial releases, it seems almost inevitable if you’ve followed his more offbeat projects over the years. And weird as it is, it’s fucking brilliant.

Basically an album of rambling, surreal, spoken word storytelling set to music, but quite why I find it so utterly fascinating and enjoyable instead of just fucking terrible I have no idea, as something like this could so easily be the latter.

The delivery helps, I think. Smith is just as insouciant and laid-back as he is when he sings pop songs. Also, the text of the pieces themselves veers so unpredictably from the banal to the unpleasant to the hallucinogenically comical that you never really know where you stand. It’s autobiographical, apparently, but you never really know whether to take that kind of statement at face value. Whatever the fuck it is, there’s a strong chance you might just think I’ve lost my marbles recommending it, but seriously, this is absolutely great. Get one here.

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Kevin Morby

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Just to give you an idea of how ruthlessly efficient we are about keeping up with music news, no sooner did I sit down to write about Kevin Morby’s last album than I realised that he actually had a new one on the way. Yes, we’re that sharp.

In fact, I’m so shit at this that I think there’s actually been another album inbetween Harlem River, which is the one I was all excited about, and the new one which has just been announced. Ah well, fuck it, I’m telling you about music I heard in a bar whilst so shitfaced I had to ask the bartender the name of the album three fucking times before I actually remembered it. Shame on me.

This is one from when we were in Red Hook actually, and on our first night in Sunny’s (one of New York’s finest dive bars) the bartender played all sorts of excellent stuff, to the extent that I went straight on eBay and bought two albums then and there. Could be worse. The next time I was drunk in a Red Hook bar and went on eBay I ended up with another old Volvo.

Every single review of Morby’s stuff mentions that he either was or is the bass player for Woods, but I don’t really know Woods all that well, and in all honesty he now has so much of his own stuff out there that the point has become pretty much irrelevant anyway. A bit like the Sea Pinks and Girls Names.

Harlem River could, I suppose, be loosely characterised as a mixture of that warm, late night feel of Kurt Vile and the spooky otherworldliness of Timber Timbre. It’s really just so reassuring and and lovely. I don’t know about this particular style of music; in some ways it’s sort of like easy listening for hipsters, in that it doesn’t intrude all that music and envelops you in this warm sense of everything being okay. Winter evening red wine music.

Using those terms though it sounds like I am trying to come up with the snidest and most dismissive insult I can, but I promise you I am not, I absolutely fucking love this album. It’s the kind of record I have reached for again and again over the last few months and my enthusiasm shows no sign of waning. Even the first time I heard it it just felt instantly familiar, as if I’d been listening to it for years and years.

The new one’s due in the next few months, and hopefully there will be more of the same. Looking at the press releases and various announcements there seem to be plenty of other vocalists involved, and if there’s one thing I am a sucker for it’s a lush vocal harmony, and the brief excerpt in the teaser video below sounds really promising too.