Song, by Toad

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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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Memory in Plant – An Epic Triumph

a0614636022_2 I have to confess that when I see terms like ‘multi-genre’ in a press release I tend to tune out, not because the idea of genre-spanning music turns me off, more because it is hugely over-used in press releases and tends to refer to a horrendous blend of tedious RnB, pop, a bit of World Music, and often someone singing really amazingly just to show that despite their ostentatiously wild and eclectic tastes, they really do just appreciate all good music. It’s awful, mostly.

Memory In Plant are from Israel, however, so it would be ludicrous of me to apply my annoyance at UK PR clichés to them.

And the album is fucking ace. It’s experimental psychedelic pop music, I suppose, if you’re looking for a glib attempt at genre description. And it is weird. And there are times I am not sure about it, I suppose, such as the moments during Eyes Up where it flirts with shouty American guitar music, which I generally dislike. It’s a brief moment though, and tempered by the fantastic oddness going on around it a brief excursion into something more conventional doesn’t hurt at all.

Generally when people use opera singers in music like this is pretty terrible too – a sort of pretentious attempt to show that they are cultured and open-minded and just because they’re breaking down all the walls, they still appreciate fine things. Here, on Rain Veins, it’s nothing of the sort. The operatic vocal is treated in just as distorted and cosmic a way as everything else – simply another sound that they love, and want to play with.

What I love about this is the fact that there are so many different sounds in here. There are all sorts of sounds I wouldn’t normally like, loads I love and plenty more I am just not used to listening to, and the way they’ve been smooshed together into one big, messy, weird, and yet oddly coherent whole really is masterful. How I found music this strange so instantly accessible that it went from my inbox to the blog in about ten minutes is truly baffling, and seriously impressive.

Music like this is why I started a label, I suppose. While the hipster world is going crazy for utterly uninspired, tepid, rehashed garbage like Haim and Royal Blood (Royal fucking Blood for fuck’s sake, what the fuck has happened to us?) these guys are having to give away their album for free on Bandcamp. The world is backwards.

In a genuinely crowded field, these guys seem to have managed to create something actually different for a change. It’s weird as fuck, but I got into it immediately. It’s experimental, but has flavours of rock and electronica, which blend seamlessly with soundscapes and even the dreaded ‘international pop’. I don’t know what the fuck it is they’ve actually done here, but they’ve done it joyously well.

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Song, by Toad Says YES!

[Advance warning: this is too long, and if you can't be fucked, don't read it. I am not adding anything new to the debate, I'm just another idiot parping out their own opinion for no better reason than, I suppose, a bit of vanity. Don't feel compelled to indulge me.]

I know no-one really cares what I think, but fuck it, I think is how democracy is supposed to work these days. People voice their opinions on the internet, read what a wide variety of people have to say and then decide which bits they do and do not agree with. Besides, I quite like the idea of nailing one’s colours to the mast when it comes to this kind of thing. It’s a pretty important question, after all, given that between the record label and Mrs. Toad’s job, we are probably now committed to spending the rest of our lives in Scotland.

Of course, I am not talking about the views of anyone on the label, which are fairly mixed I think, if perhaps vaguely Yes-leaning, but they are the business of the artists themselves and if you’re interested then you’ll have to ask them. I speak just for myself.

This could get long, like all the articles on this subject, but I’ll try and break it down into chunks so you can skim or skip entirely, depending on which arguments you can and cannot be bothered seeing re-hashed on the internet for the millionth fucking time. I think one of the reasons I am writing this is that I see it as a genuinely difficult decision and, for all once you’ve decided, you really have decided and there’s no going back, anyone who thinks it’s really simple one way or the other is just not thinking straight, whether because of ideology or simple rose-tinted excitement.

But it’s not simple. I don’t think any of the Yes arguments are as straight-forwardly compelling as a lot of the people making them seem to think they are, and I certainly don’t think any of the dire No warnings are all that realistic either. It’s muddy. It’s politics, and it’s people, and people are weird, unpredictable, vain, selfish and stupid as much as we can be generous, noble or compassionate. All of us are, in one sense or another, and that’s the country we will inevitably get. Read the rest of this entry »

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New Jonnie Common Album Coming Soon

Yes, that’s right, after years of relentless badgering Jonnie Common has agreed to release an album with Song, by Toad Records. Actually, to be fair, he had every intention of sticking with the excellent Red Deer Club, who did a fine job with his last album, but for logistical reasons it wasn’t possible so, y’know, he had to make do with us in the end.

It may not always be all that obvious, but it’s actually a tremendously meaningful thing when an artist you really admire actually entrusts you with the job of doing the best thing with their work, so I was pretty touched when Jonnie asked us to do this. I’ve been a fan of his since his Down the Tiny Steps years, so I am absolutely delighted to be able to do a formal release with him at last.

I’ll not say too much now, as we have a new single to release next week, but for now know that you can pre-order the album on CD or vinyl from here, and that the CD version comes with two versions of the album so you can pick which one you prefer. Or just alternate between the two, your call.

The album is called Trapped in Amber and will be released on Halloween 2014, and we are currently working on some excellent launch nights for you, so keep an eye out for further announcements.

For now, until we release the new single next week (although the excellent Steve Lamacq played it on 6Music just under 45 minutes into his show the other day), just enjoy this gorgeous video of a rather brilliant song which might or might not be on the album. I say ‘might’ because, y’know, IT’S A SECRET!

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Why EXCLUSIVES!!! Make Me Hate Music

 Jesus Christ these damn things irritate the shit out of me, both as a label and as a blogger. You know what I mean, don’t you? EXCLUSIVE!1!!! FIRST STREAM OF WAYLOR STIFT’S NEW SINGLE ZOMGWOW!!!1! etc etc etc..

Firstly, there’s no such fucking thing as a fucking exclusive. It’s pointless. This is the fucking internet for fuck’s sake.

More to the point, though, this is just a fucking stupid act of desperation from both sides where they desperately try and exploit people they perceive to be marginally higher up the ladder than them in order to grasp that tiny little bit of extra attention which seems to be all most people are in music for in the first place. Premieres aren’t in and of themselves dreadful, of course – sometimes it’s just a nice thing between a writer who is a fan and a band who appreciate the support – but almost 99% of the time it’s one or the other or both just desperately hoping someone will give a shit about them.

The reasoning is simple enough, I suppose. The band thinks that the publication has a massive readership and by giving them the exclusive, they’ll get that bit of extra commitment from the publication to pushing it to that readership and KABOOM, fame and fortune are inevitable.

Publications, on the other hand, are looking to give as much support to the bands they love, and given how much support they’ve given them in the past, isn’t it nice that the first listen of their awesome new song takes place on our site even though they’re big now. We are building a genuine reputation for supporting the music we love, and showing people our fine taste and curatorial judgement.

The problem is that this isn’t really how it works in reality.

In reality, bands are rather pathetically offering up these premieres so as to give themselves the tiniest extra chance of getting coverage in what they see as the most significant and important publication they can reasonably aim for, hoping that audience and that stamp of approval will do something magical for their careers or give them some vague sense of validation.

The publications, on the other hand, are just looking to exploit buzzy bands to look cool. If we get this super-cool premiere from this super-cool band then all their legions of hip young fans will think that we are super-cool too and then they will always come to our website to bathe in our glorious opinions and we will become significant cultural touchstones for the fashionable youth of the 21st Century. Or if they’re not all that buzzy, at least they’ll spend all day trying to get their fans to come to our site, which means traffic nirvana.

The results are just painful and stupid.

From the point of view of  a label or a PR guy, I fucking hate this shit. It seems pretty much impossible to get a news piece on most of the more influential sites because they just aren’t interested unless you dress the fucking thing up as an exclusive or as a premiere. Why? What a waste of fucking time. If you like it, are interested in the band, or rate the music you should just fucking publish it. If you want to be a tastemaker that’s your entire fucking purpose.  Who cares if it’s a fucking exclusive or if a hundred other sites have written about it – respect your own opinions.

And how can you tell that most of the thinking in this area is a pathetic as I have laid out above? Well if the band are bigger than the publication then the publication will fart out any old recycled fucking news piece regardless of anything, just for the hits. I know this from writing a blog myself that timely articles about famous artists drives a lot of traffic, irrespective of whatever copy-and-pasted shit you put in there – that’s partly why I stopped doing it.

Alternatively, if you’re too small to demand the coverage off the back of your own status and have them scrabbling around after you then you’ll get leant on for exclusives so that they can exploit your entire PR effort driving traffic to their site in an effort to justify the feature. Basically, they are holding you to fucking ransom to push traffic to their site. I am at the point now where I am nervous about announcing things on my own fucking website, in case the fact that it is already out there puts off too many other sites from writing about it at all. I shouldn’t do it. You shouldn’t do it, it’s pathetic.

From the point of view of a music reviewer I find it equally irritating when PR people and bands I don’t know get in touch peddling exclusives and premieres.  I don’t need to be pandered to. There’s no need to offer me an exclusive. I have some fucking integrity, thank you, I’ll cover it if I think it is good or interesting and only then, as I have demonstrated about a bazillion times in the past. Ooh, an exclusive, I’ll definitely write about your shit band now.

What’s actually worse is when PR people get in touch linking me to another website, saying ‘our exclusive new single just premiered on hipsterpish.com, check it out!’ What they’re effectively saying is that now the important people are interested they’re trying to use their status to impress me into writing about stuff, and also that we are so far down the pecking order that they can’t even be fucked sending us the actual press release.  Once the big boys have picked the carcass clean, we small fry are invited to scavenge amongst the bones. Fuck off.

And why? I just don’t see the fucking point. Fair enough, Pitchfork’s Best New Music anointment means a lot of traffic and kudos, and maybe one or two others do, but most of this shit is fucking meaningless. Have you seen how few plays an exclusive premiere on one of the perceived larger online music magazines gets you? Pretty much fuck all, actually. You’re better off firing it around your fans most of the time, and letting their enthusiasm do the rest. Certainly if theirs doesn’t then there’s fat chance anyone else’s will.

The premiere seems to fundamentally misunderstand the network effects of the internet. If as a band you want things to go viral – which you do – then it’s not the one big important site that matters, but the sheer number of sites, fans, pals who share the thing around everywhere. And if as a publication you want to drive traffic to your site then you want the band to be talked about as far and wide as possible so that they get big and everyone starts looking for them on the internet, don’t you? This pathetic, status-conscious grovelling from both sides makes absolutely everyone look shit.

You can tell the good sites because a few of them genuinely do premiere stuff with almost no audience and which no-one else has heard of for no other reason than that they really like it. I love seeing that happen – that’s what music writing should be. But more often than not it’s sites desperately trying to chisel bands for every last bit of audience they can send their way instead of having some fucking respect for their own actual, real opinions about music. And bands are all too often desperately looking for that stamp of approval from the bigger fish and often neglecting the smaller fry, even when they have genuine enthusiasm for your stuff and actually might put some more effort into helping you reach a bigger audience.

Fucking hell, the ‘plea for integrity’. As if the fucking internet didn’t have enough of these already – almost as many as it has spurious fucking exclusive streams of new songs or pointless fucking video premieres.

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Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

CVG_ShrinkDustLPJacket_Working Well this is apparently not his best album by any means – so say my Chad VanGaalen-loving friends at least. Funnily enough, though, this is actually the first of his albums I’ve actually sat down with properly and listened through to and my perspective is probably a bit different from theirs.

I’ve heard the name around for ages, of course, although actually he’s only been releasing albums as long as I’ve been back in Scotland (although that’s probably a far longer time than I care to admit). Even this album has been out for months now, I just got it late because I ordered it with a bunch of other things and rather foolishly selected the ‘ship when everything is ready’ option.

I’ve only listened back to his older stuff very briefly since getting this, and I suppose this does sound a bit smoother and less awkward than some of the earlier recordings. Normally I would complain about this, but I haven’t really had time to listen to the older albums properly so I don’t have that slightly weird allegiance which is so easy to develop to earlier incarnations of someone’s sound.

The only reason I bought this album, actually, is because Meursault did an absolutely brilliant cover of Rabid Bits of Time on their last release, The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, and so when I saw this was coming out I thought fuck it, why not have a go.

And fuck the purists, this is brilliant. I suppose I had no real expectations (apart from a curious half-idea that it might be a bit like Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, which is total balls) so I guess I was listening with a pretty blank slate, which is often quite a hard thing to achieve.

At times this embraces lo-fi singer-songwriter stuff, but there is plenty more to come and go, moving the album around nicely. It can be glum and morose, it can be droney and bit unpleasant, and Leaning on Bells is a raucous, old-fashioned garage rocker. But then some of the most euphoric songs have this gorgeous choral feel in the, erm, well in the choruses, and it allows the record to drift from tense, to introspective, to grumbly, and yet still be able to lift itself into something supremely uplifting and lovely here and there when it wants to.

The fact that the chorus of one of these beautifully uplifting tunes is simply “I’m a monster” is something I’ll just gloss over, I think. Weighted Sin is another song which sounds absolutely gorgeous but tells a tale of rather brutal self-judgment. I know from Rabid Bits of Time not to expect breezy, trivial lyrics, I suppose, and I think I need a bit more time to settle into every song on the album in that sense, but it’s something I will certainly be taking the time to do.

It may take a bit more attention lyrically, but in a musical sense this is far more immediate. Whilst the old fans might find it displeasingly smooth compared to past work (at least, I am guessing that’s what they’re unimpressed with – I can’t think of anything else), for me that made it easier to get into. Hell, there’s even clarinet in the first song, in amongst the disturbed swirling of, well, whatever it is making that noise.

Compared to my thus-far superficial skims through earlier stuff, it doesn’t, I suppose, have that sense of aggravation. I mean, that’s still there, but the music seems fuller and less hesitant and unsure of itself, which perhaps makes this feel a little more purposeful and accessible, but I guess I’ll know more when I go back and listen properly. For now I am perfectly happy getting to know Shrink Dust entirely on its own merits, because it’s a fantastic album. It doesn’t exactly scare you, and it’s not bleak or miserable exactly, but there is plenty of that in there, and the mixture of this stuff and the gentler, more soothing stuff keeps you on your toes throughout.

So, if it’s apparently not his best album, I think I’m going to have some fun finding out which one is!

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Beck – Morning Phase

Beck_Morning_Phase Okay, first things first, despite some initial confusion it turns out I am no more than a very occasional Beck fan. You know what I mean: I kept hearing good things about him, bought one album which I thought was fucking incredible, and then kept buying disappointment after disappointment in the mistaken belief that I was a huge fan. Turns out I’m not.

The album I absolutely love is Mutations. I did from pretty much first listen, and I still do. Midnight Vultures has some decent stuff on it, I like moments here and there on Guero, and I guess Sea Change is almost all excellent. I’ve been told that some of his really early, really rough stuff is absolutely great too, but I’ve never made time to listen to it (One Foot in the Grave and earlier, I think). So, you know, two albums out of fucking loads and loads isn’t particularly good odds, but I do like those two albums an awful lot.

Sea Change is the one which gets referenced a lot when Morning Phase comes up, and I suppose it’s a mostly-valid comparison. The sound is very similar, I suppose, but I am not sure that the feeling I get from the album is all that comparable.

What do I mean by that? Well, as I said, the overall sound is quite similar; pace, instrumentation, vocal delivery, intensity – all that stuff seems pretty similar across the two records. What’s different, though, is the overall emotion which seems to drive the songs themselves. Sea Change is an overwhelmingly sad album. It sounds defeated and heartbroken, and this just doesn’t. It maybe sounds exhausted in a way, or burned out. I dunno. It’s mellow, but it sounds like shit is just fine.

To put it another way, I would listen to Sea Change if I was devastated about something and wanted to lose myself in that feeling. I would listen to this with a glass of wine in the evening when I was having a cuddle on the couch with Mrs. Toad. If you wanted to be unbelievably snide, you could very easily dismiss this as easy listening music for ageing, middle class, ex-hipsters.

Ouch. I know. But then, I really like it. I am, after all, an ageing, middle class, ex-hipster. Or maybe an ageing, middle class, aspiring hipster. This is music which is relaxed and warm. It feels nice. It feels comforting, it’s hummable, it’s like the aforementioned glass of wine in the evening. Or maybe a cup of tea on Sunday afternoon.

That’s about as well as I can do, actually. It sounds like a massive insult, but this album is just enormously pleasant to listen to – not in a dismissably inoffensive way, but in a wonderfully enriching way. And while it’s not quite as compellingly brilliant as Sea Change or Mutations, I think it’s probably my third-favourite Beck album. Until I properly explore that really nasty early stuff of course.

Buy from Amazon.

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Adam Faucett – Blind Water Finds Blind Water

adfaucAdam Faucett is someone who we discovered on Meursault’s March tour of the States, after SXSW. He played with the band at Boone in North Carolina, which sounds hugely unpromising, but was actually just about the best show of the tour, give or take.

On the bill that night were Adam and his band, and fucking hell they were good. So much beard. Such glaring! They were lovely guys actually, but the sheer volume of facial hair still made them look really intimidating.

I don’t know if you saw Meursault much before their last ever show at the Queen’s Hall last month, or if you’ve seen Neil play solo recently, but if you have then you might well have noticed Day Drinker from this album featuring pretty regularly in his set ever since.

Listening to the album immediately after the show was a bit of a surprise, I have to say. On stage the band were fucking fierce, and Faucett himself was playing a Fender amp which was failing, but in a way which only made everything sound more nasty and awesome. The album is a lot smoother, for starters, but also more dominated by slower, more pensive songs, and that took a little getting used to after such a brilliantly ferile set.

They’re great though, those quieter songs. Not what I was expecting, but really good nevertheless. Day Drinker, for example, is a particularly unflinching tale. Walking Home Late is a brilliant wee song as well: reflective and a little maudlin. Poet Song is another one.

I suppose in some ways this album’s problem is one of it’s greatest triumphs: Melanie, the second song, is such an awesome beast of a swaggering, Southern rock song that you can be fooled into spending the rest of the album waiting for the next one, and it doesn’t really come. I think that’s what happened to me when I first heard the album too. Live, Melanie had produced that moment of ‘holy shit, who the fuck are these guys‘ and I sort of expected that to be the album I heard.

And it’s just not. Faucett is actually an really talented painter of pictures. Melanie is one of those pictures just as much as Walking Home Late, so actually the two songs have way more in common than you would think, despite being musically very different. So I went into this record thinking ‘big, nasty, snarling riffs’ and slowly realised that it’s one to be played with whisky and properly listened to, not one to throw on when you want to bounce around doing air punches.

It’s just come out on vinyl too, and mine just arrived, which is what prompted me to write about it. Seriously, if you’re tempted, just fucking do it!

And here’s Day Drinker. The sound on the video is pretty rotten, but hopefully the song itself still comes across properly:

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Toadcast #304 – The Nearlycast

Tour de France  2012 stage - 12 So, here we are on August 28th and I have neeeeearly made it through another Pale Imitation Festival. Nearly. We still have tonight’s awesome show with eagleowl, Ian Humberstone and Smackvan, and then the closing party on Saturday with PAWS, Halfrican and Et Tu Brute! and then I will sleep for a week, and lock the doors and the shutters to the house so I don’t have to speak to people until I am good and ready.

That sounds like a moan, and it is I suppose, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love the festival we’ve put on. I’ve loved every gig so far, and I’m incredibly proud of how well it has all gone and how well it has all been received, it’s just that it’s kind of exhausting and rather gets in the way of all the other things I have to be doing at the moment. Anyone who does this kind of shit knows, I guess, it’s amazing but exhausting, and at the moment I am knackered.

Anyhow, I recently received a most excellent package from Norman Records of about five or so new albums, and a lot of them get a spin here. Oddly enough I had to go an buy the Wytches song on iTunes again because for all Heavenly sent me a download card with the album, there was no sign anywhere of where to actually redeem it, and I couldn’t find one on their site anywhere either. Weird. And of course the PR folk never sent me the album for review either so I’ve ended up buying an album I was asked to review, and then having to buy a song again just to play it on the damn podcast.

Still, they’re ten times more established and successful than we are, so I suppose in a way it’s sort of reassuring to see that they can still be just as hapless. Music would be pretty shit if it was all ruthlessly efficient people in charge.

Toadcast #304 – The Nearlycast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #304 – The Nearlycast

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01. Temple Songs – Sunspot Dandyline (00.20)
02. Michael Cera – Gershy’s Kiss (07.56)
03. Chad VanGaalen – Frozen Paradise (10.44)
04. Jonnie Common – Shark (18.31)
05. Eaten By Television – To Emma (25.40)
06. The Wytches – Wire Frame Mattress (31.29)
07. Los Angeles Police Department – Enough is Enough (36.54)
08. Old Earth – Some Gates’ll Swing Wide, For Us (38.47)
09. Beck – Morning (47.39)
10. The Eskimo Chain – Riding (57.37)

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David Thomas Broughton and Juice Tour

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In support of their brilliant new album Sliding the Same Way (out at the end of September on Song, by Toad Records) David Thomas Broughton and Juice Vocal Ensemble will be hitting the road over the course of September, both to promote the release, and also to give you one of the only chances you’ll get to see the collaboration performed live. They’re also performing at the End of the Road Festival too, for those going along.

The album itself hasn’t been out for review all that long yet, but we’re starting to get some very happy responses indeed – This record is brilliant, but bloody heck it’s a bracing listen” – “simultaneously jarring and elegant” – “the only bone-fide genius currently making music in the world – and of course my favourite ever press quote for one of our releases: “will make you smile, cry, go”what?” and release bodily fluids in equal measure”.

Have a listen to the first single below, as well as a song from our 2014 Sampler, and pre-order your copy of the album here.