Song, by Toad

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Powerdove – Arrest

powerdove Annie Lewandowski has written two (well three, it turns out now) of the best albums of the last five years. Generally that would cause me to make a slightly huffy remark or two about people being fucking idiots, but honestly, after three albums you’d think the world would have caught up by now.

When you’re a bit of a music idiot that kind of thing starts out as frustrating and slowly but surely becomes deeply annoying. One overlooked release can be put down to an accident. Three and the world clearly has some sort of fucking problem. Alright, so this isn’t pop music exactly. In fact, it isn’t pop music at all, really, but despite the utter weirdness and occasional hostility of the arrangements, the songs really are just beautiful.

Lewandowski has re-recorded a couple of tunes from her (brilliant) first album here, and for all she has progressed massively since then, the mix of beauty and agitated discomfort remain constant.

On Be Mine (the album) the backing was as minimal as it gets, but still managed to be unsettling and peculiar. On this there are nice tunes – After Dark for example – but again most of the backing music is incongruously frantic (Weeping Willow) or just downright unwelcoming and unsettling.

The most obvious example of this is the opening track When You’re Near, with its bursts of discordant noise, like a set of bagpipes being malevolently stamped upon, inbetween each burst of clear, lovely singing. It’s great and awful at the same time, and a hell of a song to open an album with. It’s almost like she’s daring us to dislike her stuff, with the comfort that if you can get through this the rest of the album will be just a little bit gentler.

And it is, I suppose, although the building blocks of the songs are rarely less than unusual. It’s incredible that I can listen to an artist whose work I know this well and still find the album shocking and in need of a bit of adjustment time before I can settle into it though. And the world is busy listening to fucking tepid, lifeless idiots peddling diluted electropop with just enough vaseline on the lens to make it seem wistful and enigmatic, when in truth it’s just fucking boring. People are fucking idiots, they really are.

Hooray for French label Murailles though, because as well as this and Powerdove’s first album they are also working with the fantastic Pillars and Tongues. And I didn’t even know this album existed until a week or so ago, too. Just goes to show that putting a bit of thought and effort into the music you listen to is hugely, hugely worth it sometimes.

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Toadcast #310 – The Tipcast

tag Alright alright, so the name of this might have absolutely hee-haw relation to the actual content of the podcast. It’s just that I went to the tip today in Bette, as I usually do, and they spat the dummy and tried to charge me commercial rates to dispose of my rubbish and recycling because the car had fucking ‘advertising’ on the side of it. As in, daft rally stickers. Does Bette seriously look like a fucking company car to you, you morons?

Despite the fact that I emptied it all out on the ground and asked them to point to the commercial waste, of which there was precisely none, the best they could manage was ‘well this time it’s okay, but next time…’ Next time what? Fucking what? Stupid stickers on the side of a car means I can’t use the fucking municipal dump? Fucking idiots.

Anyhow, pointless and utterly futile outrage aside, here are some excellent tunes for you once again. Next week will be the Virgin of the Birds Toad Session, so keep an eye out for that as well. Ahh. Pub.

Toadcast #310 – The Tipcast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #310 – The Tipcast

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01. Malcom Middleton & David Shrigley – A Toast (00.57.)
02. Hamilton Leithauser – Room For Forgiveness (06.40)
03. C. Duncan – For (15.55)
04. ColeFord – Chains (19.47)
05. Adam Faucett – Benton (25.15)
06. Music Recordings – Virgin Galactic (31.44)
07. Malcolm Middleton & David Shrigley – Story Time (34.31)
08. s>c>r>a>p>s – Siri (42.39)
09. Scraps – Asleep (45.07)
10. Dan Michaelson & the Coastguards – Burning Hearts (51.53)
11. Trips and Falls – Your Consequences are Bullshit (59.17)

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Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils From The Sea

PerilsFromTheSea I am almost a complete Mark Kozelek ignoramus, and I suppose you can probably tell that from the fact that I am only now writing about an album released over a year and a half ago.  At least I know that I like his music – what I’ve heard at least. All I can tell you about Jimmy Lavalle is that he is one of the founding members of The Album Leaf, a band I know the sum total of notafuckingthing about.

Given my music taste it feels like I should really know these guys pretty well, but I don’t, and the only reason I even know about this album at all is from driving Meursault on tour in the States earlier in the year, where Neil kept insisting how fantastic the album was and that I should listen to it.

And so I did. And it turns out he’s right. Not that I ever doubted him of course*.

Gustavo (below) is the song I was first pointed to: a wonderfully specific-yet-vague tune about an illegal immigrant who worked on Kozelek’s house.  The moral ambiguity of the song is what Neil says he loves about Kozelek’s songwriting, and his willingness to accept the role of the bad guy and avoid self-justification when telling tricky tales.

Since then the infamous War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock has emerged and with it the widespread acceptance that Kozelek is a bit of a ‘difficult character’ at times, and I suppose that sort of chimes. If he was a difficult character bathed in self-righteousness then I guess he’d probably have killed his own career by now, but this kind of unflinching acceptance may just about diffuse it enough. Plus, I suppose, his music is fucking gorgeous.

Ceiling Gazing is absolutely lovely, a jet-lagged internal ramble full of pathos and warmth and weird sense of dislocation. It’s not unlike Lost in Translation actually, although that’s a bit of a glib comparison. It’s not alone here either. Caroline is fucking gorgeous too. Actually, they pretty much all are.

The warmth is a permanent feature of the album. Kozelek’s vocal is as distinctive, unhurried and reassuring as ever, and it is accompanied by relatively simple electronic melodies and a little bit of drum machine. It sounds a bit like an omnichord to me, and that is one of my favourite instruments, although I am hardly an expert in pulling apart musical arrangements.

The simplicity means there is a definite uniformity of tone across this – it feels very much like a late-night album for dark evenings, and writing this on exactly such an evening that feels about right. The beat means it’s not exactly morose all of the time, just low key. Low key and absolutely lovely.

Kozelek generally only releases on CD unfortunately, and you can get one here. Damn I wish it was on vinyl.

*Of course I doubted him. The man’s a fucking liability for fuck’s sake.

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Ferguson

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I can get a little twitchy when I hear the term ‘white supremacist’ being used to describe the in-built prejudices and biases in favour of white people within Western society. Then you see something like the verdict in Ferguson and it feels like my discomfort with the term is irrelevant and possibly just plain wrong. This isn’t inbuilt prejudice or racial bias, this is active White Supremacy at work.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t like the term, generally, and one is rational and the other just plain emotional. Emotional reactions of straight, middle class white men don’t and really shouldn’t count for shit when the language of equality is concerned of course, and I accept that, so let’s forget that one. Maybe it’s just like men and ‘misogyny’ – a knee-jerk reaction that’s barely worth bothering with.

The other reason hopefully has a little more merit. As far as I have always understood it White Supremacy is a very specific movement, based on the idea that that the white race is superior and that all others should be subservient. It is deliberate and violent, sometimes genocidal, and is an active and specific socio-political dogma.

Racism, even the endemic, systematic inbuilt racism within our society is not the same. Some of it is, and some of the people perpetuating it are, but a lot of it is passive, casual and accidental. It is a hangover from the economic dominance of colonial Europe, and a lot of the people perpetuating it – white and people of colour alike – do so out of ignorance, habit, upbringing, or simple lack of vision as to how and make a whole, ingrained system full of awful biases go away.

I am not saying that this makes it feel any better when you are on the receiving end, but it is still different.  

I know I am racist in some ways, some I understand and some I don’t yet. I don’t want to be. I will happily learn, and I will try my best to change. Lots of people are like that. It is hugely different to White Supremacy, which is a political movement deliberately targeted at the subjugation and sometimes extermination of entire races of people, and it doesn’t seem right or helpful to conflate the two. I know I still have in-built sexism, for example, but I would balk a little at suggestions that I am a misogynist.

But when you look at something like Ferguson, and at what happened to Trayvon Martin and the dozens of other similar cases. Even I, in my mealy-mouthed, privileged way, with my hurt fucking feelings and my ‘not all men’ excuses for this shit look at what is happening and see only one thing: White Supremacy.

Black lives worth so much less than white lives. Black (and white) people vilified and attacked for daring to suggest otherwise. Deliberate, systematic repression and violent subjugation based upon skin colour. That’s what White Supremacy is. It is visceral, real, hate-filled, horrifying and utterly undeniable.

And as a white man I am as disgusted and ashamed as I am angry.

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Old Earth – A Wake in the Wells

oldearth Old Earth have been something of a favourite around these parts for some time now. We recorded a Toad Session with Todd a year or two ago when he and his girlfriend came over to Scotland, and I spent most of the recent Edinburgh Independent Label Market enthusiastically encouraging people to buy his album from the neighbouring stall, rather than attempting to hawk my own wares.

It’s bloody fantastic stuff though. This album perhaps reminds me more of the feel of the Toad Session, with jangly guitars quite prominent and the buzzy soundscapes perhaps more sparingly embraced.

Todd is pretty clear on how he wants his music to be listened to, and does more than most bands I know to gently but firmly coerce you into a certain manner of interaction. Songs often have no gaps between them, often joined by long, overlapping musical interludes, and it’s not uncommon for three separate songs to be contained in a single track. The songs on this album don’t even have names of their own.

Umhoefer’s rationale is that he is not making pop music. It could be perceived as a rather snotty approach, and I suppose I’d have to accept that interpretation, but I still rather like his way of thinking. None of us are getting rich doing this, so if there isn’t a financial imperative and you don’t have other people’s salaries to pay, then surely the only question to ask yourself is exactly what sort of work you want to put out into the world.

For Todd, that’s a little over half an hour of music which belongs together as a single piece, and which works best when embraced as such. Why should he pander to the requirement of the single, discreet two-and-a-half-minute pop song if that’s fundamentally not what he is trying to do. There are pop songs there, but they emerge from a sort of ground zero atmospheric thrum which seems to undulate through the background of the whole record as a sort of general mood in which the entire thing exists.

It’s like the background of traffic, footfall and chatter which exists all around us in our home towns – it’s just part of the world we are inhabiting, and within that world certain things are off in the distance and others come more sharply into focus when you engage with them. It’s not a revolutionary way of making music, but the clarity of vision and unconcerned determination with which Todd sticks to his ideas are both things I really admire. Plus, of course, it’s a great fucking record.

Get one here on vinyl or digital.

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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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Edinburgh Council Completely Embarrassed by Queen’s Hall Fiasco

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Wonderful. Edinburgh Council spent Monday evening persuading people working in music here in Edinburgh that they are sincerely looking to find ways to encourage live music to flourish in the city, and not let it be dragged down by single complainants intent on damaging the cultural life of the city because they didn’t realise that moving in next to a music venue might involve hearing said venue going about its business from time to time.

And then today the Queen’s Hall was forced to remove all its external advertising because of a single complainant who objected. And instead of laughing at that complainant and telling them to grow up and piss off the council capitulated, and in doing so basically make themselves look a bit stupid at best, and craven, cynical and dishonest at worst.

Or, in slightly more familiar language for readers of this site: Jesus fucking Christ, this really is unbe-fucking-lievable, for fuck’s sake.

Neil Cooper – a journalist and formidable campaigner for the arts here in the city – pointed out the almost comically stupid double-standard here. When the Picture House was sold to Wetherspoons to be made into a megapub the likes of which Edinburgh very clearly does not have even the slightest need for, 13000 people signed a petition to protect it as a music venue. This in a city where they are closing all the time and we need as many as we can possibly preserve. So one complainant gets to prevent the Queen’s Hall advertising their own business, one crucial to the cultural life of the city. But 13,000 complainants asking the council to stand up to the big breweries are all ignored.

The imbalance is so utterly ridiculous it basically makes them either look stupid or corrupt. I have no idea which.

Now, the council seemed entirely sincere when they attended the meeting on Monday, and it seemed like a really productive conversation with genuine intent to tackle the problem, so this news today just seems embarrassing, but it highlights the problem very, very clearly. Simply put, one person complaining should never be able to have such a massively negative impact on one of the cornerstones and genuine work-horses of the city’s cultural life. It’s fucking ludicrous.

The Queen’s Hall may not seem like they support the local music scene all that much. You don’t see Edinburgh bands playing there all that often, let’s face it, but that’s because they’re a big venue and very few local bands can actually fill it. Having said that, as soon as anyone gets to that level, the support they give is fantastic. Withered Hand, Broken Records, Stanley Odd and Meursault have all graduated from the circuit of smaller venues to play the Queen’s Hall in recent years, and Plastic Animals, eagleowl and Rob St. John have all played support slots there. And that’s just Edinburgh bands. R.M. Hubbert, Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote, Randolph’s Leap… all these bands have come from the Scottish underground to play headline slots at the Queen’s Hall.

In fact, even if they can’t necessarily get away with it the rest of the year, the Queen’s Hall specifically take advantage of the extra footfall during the Edinburgh Festival to take a chance on other local bands who might not be able to fill the place otherwise. In other words, they know exactly what is going on and they give as much support to the local scene as they can, whenever they get the opportunity.

And that’s not even mentioning more adventurous stuff like Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bastard Mountain and #Unravel – all risky, artistically ambitious projects related to music, but with much broader scope, which they have supported in recent years.

So, Edinburgh Council, the appropriate response when one dude objects to the Queen’s Hall relatively discreetly advertising their own business, a business which is a massive boost to the cultural life in Edinburgh, on the front of their own building, is this:

“Fuck off, you tedious, self-important idiot and stop wasting absolutely everyone’s fucking time with this bollocks.”

I won’t even trademark the response, so feel free to copy and paste it from this site for future correspondence.  The meeting should not have taken any more than about five minutes. “This guy’s a fucking tool right?” “Right” “Shall I just tell him to fuck off.” “Yeah I think so. We’ve wasted too much time thinking about it already.” “Cool.”  And that’s it. It deserved no more of your time than that. And no other response.

Because, let’s be clear about this Edinburgh Council, you should be absolutely embarrassed that this outcome was even suggested, never mind ratified. THIS is why you are such a big problem. It’s laughable. It’s pathetic. It makes you look like complete fools to absolutely everyone, and like enemies of the very community you are employed to administer. You are here to make our city work for us, remember.

Given the state of Nicholson Street in general, the very idea that you actually entertained this complaint for longer than it actually took you to read it all beggars belief. If the advertising was too cluttered and contravened planning regulations you may feel your hands are tied, but all you have to do is enter into a plan with the Queen’s Hall to tidy it up. This response is as needless as it is stupid.

13000 people can’t prevent an giant factory pub opening on Lothian Road, but one imbecile can interfere this seriously in a crucial creative enterprise.  I dearly, dearly hope Monday’s meeting is the first step down a road which ensures this sort of embarrassing nonsense never happens again. It genuinely seemed like there was a will to change within the council and I hope that is true.

Just commit to memory the fact that next time this happens all you really have to say is ‘ha ha, piss off’. That’s all.

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Toadcast #309 – The Edincast

tag I can’t really believe I’ve not done an Edincast before. I mean, I live here, I work here, I run a label here and I go out to gigs here all the time. How has this not happened yet? I’ve done numerous Scottish ones, label ones, and even Manchester ones although I’m not really from there, but Edinburgh has never happened for some reason.

And why has it happened now? Well I was at the Creative Edinburgh Awards last night and had put together an Edinburgh playlist specifically for the purpose, but the organisers (probably very wisely) just asked the DJs to play through, instead of using my stuff, so I never had the chance to annoy people with my deliberately obtuse choices. Actually, most of them weren’t all that obtuse really… just one or two.

So given the muzzling yesterday I figured I could just put most of these songs on a podcast and, let’s face it, play them to a much more receptive audience. I mean, The Leg, The Love Gestures, Passion Pusher… not really suitable for last night’s Gathering of the Middle Classes. It was fun, though. There was awesome cake and our pals Olaf (Born to Be Wide) and Tommy Perman and Rob St. John (Water of Life) both won awards.  And I had too much gin. So a good night all round, really!

Toadcast #309 – The Edincast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. The Shop Assistants – I Don’t Wanna Be Friends With You (01.40)
02. Fire Engines – Sympathetic Anaesthetic (07.27)
03. Idlewild – I’m A Message (12.53)
04. Lucky Jim – You Stole My Heart Away (15.33)
05. The Love Gestures – Hey Man (20.24)
06. FOUND – Machine Age Dancing (27.46)
07. Broken Records – So Long, So Late (36.19)
08. Numbers Are Futile – Monster (46.05)
09. Passion Pusher – Couch King (50.19)
10. Young Fathers – Get Up (59.55)

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Don’t Make a Scene

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A couple of years ago I wrote a surprisingly popular post called ‘A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along’. I’d just got into regular gig promotion and was only just starting to get my head around the difficulties of doing it right. I’d spent a lot of time around bands at that point, and had heard complaint after complaint about promoters, whether they be amateurish, dishonest, spiteful, or just disorganised and I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to become one of those promoters.

It’s tough though. As I started to get my head around it I started to realise, for example, just how hard it is to pay a band a decent fee. Never mind all the other stuff about decent food, a nice place to stay, actually turning up at the gig and being friendly – it’s actually tough as fuck to even do the bare minimum and pay a band even a cursory fee. So I wrote about it – about all the pressures on a promoter and all the pitfalls they face, and about what I myself understood about the difficulties of touring and what makes a gig feel worthwhile or otherwise for a band.

Basically I was trying to show how hard it is to make the requirements and obligations of both actually meet in the middle. I’d heard so much about dreadful promoters, but I also thought a lot of bands didn’t really appreciate how tough the job was and I thought some explanation of the mismatch of expectations or the simple impossibility of some of the economics would be helpful in making things a bit less attritional.

Rob St. John and Bart from eagleowl are two people who have both toured extensively in bands, both their own and other people’s, and who have also spent significant periods of time doing regular DIY gig promotion. They’ve both experienced the frustrations of both sides of this particular fence, so some time earlier this year they decided to compile a collection of anecdotes and advice from people involved in DIY gig promotion, to try and give people a bit of help navigating this particularly tricky terrain. They kindly asked me to contribute, and so I sort of re-visited the article I told you about above.

The resulting zine is called Don’t Make a Scene, and you can pre-order one here (they’ll be posted out in late November).  There are loads of other contributors too, along with illustrators and photographers, and I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I am really looking forward to getting my grubby hands on one.

Contributors include Chris Tipton (Upset the Rhythm, London: ‘Curate your event with imagination, honour and taste’), Sofia Hagberg (End of the Road / Sam and Sofia, Sheffield: ‘Advancing a show’), Emily Tracer Trails (Edinburgh and Glasgow: ‘A guide to not losing money on gigs’), Fielding Hope (Cry Parrot / Cafe Oto, Glasgow / London: ‘Applying for funding’), Andy Inglis (5000 / former manager of the Luminaire, London: ‘We’re good at taking things for free’), Matthew Young (Song, by Toad, Edinburgh: ‘Bridging the promoter-musician gap’), Johnny Lynch (Lost Map, Isle of Eigg: ‘Some things I’ve learnt about putting on gigs’) and Andy Abbott (That Fucking Tank, Leeds: ‘DIY bother? Reasons to keep doing it’) and many more.

Don’t Make a Scene contains new visual art, illustration and photography by Lizzy Stewart, Tommy Perman, Sarah Tanat-Jones (Synaesthete / Kit Records), Craig Coulthard, Neil Cammock, Matt Pattinson and Cammy Watt (Enfant Bastard).  

The zine features an interview with Marie Tippex (from booking agent Julie Tippex), and articles on DIY sound engineering by Tim Matthew (regular engineer for Lau); all-ages gigs by eagleowl’s Clarissa Cheong, setting up DJs and club nights by Malcolm Benzie (Papi Falso) and Lisa Brook (founder of Cafe Kino in Bristol and DJ Cupcake); and advice for prospective promoters from experienced touring musicians David Thomas Broughton, Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Dan Willson (Withered Hand).

The first edition of 300 copies will be released on 24th November 2014, reasonably priced at £4, and will be available for pre-order through dontmakeascene.co.uk.  Don’t Make a Scene was riso printed by Footprint Workers Co-op in Leeds using soy inks on recycled paper.

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Grace Joyner – Young Fools

grace So I don’t like pop music eh, well what about this, you fuckers, what about this? Well I suppose it’s a counter-argument but only kind of. A lot of this is pretty damn morose, and needless to say those are my favourite bits. It does get pretty pop at times, such as Holy, and inevitably that is my least favourite song on the album, but most of this is really good.

Off the top of my head there are a few loose comparisons to give you a rough idea of the kind of territory we’re in here – some of that wounded glamour of Lana Del Rey, a horribly depressed cousin of Nicole Atkins, or perhaps a less affected Angel Olsen. None of these comparisons are that great, but they put you in roughly the right ballpark.

Although I don’t love any of those artists, there is definitely a bit of something in all of them that I like to varying extents, and I think Joyner comes closest to nailing it. This is old-fashioned, but still modern. The synths are moody without being prominent, and the drumming sounds like a drum machine (although looking at the photos it would appear the band do have a drummer).

I suppose, put simply, I prefer this because it is quite lo-fi and stripped back. I remember early Nicole Atkins, and how there was a sort of gloriously amateurish glamour to it.  Lana Del Rey’s album may have been a lifeless, embarrassing mess, but there was something incredible about the direct, unsettling feel of Video Games.  So of course Holy isn’t really my cup of tea, but I think Young Fools is fucking great: bitter and wounded, but fantastically light and elusive.

I’m sure it would be crap for her career to embrace the miserable, weird and the uncomfortable side of her music and move in the direction of the fantastic Powerdove or Lady Lazarus, but I reckon I would love the results. This EP teeters on the brink of either approach – pop or anti-pop –  and Joyner could do either. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and this may just be a digital release, but I am most curious too see what the future holds.