Song, by Toad

Posts tagged sparrow and the workshop

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Looking Forward to 2015

future What, seriously, already? Actually, as much as Christmas being in the shops already annoys me, and as much as online List Season starting in November also annoys me, at a record label where manufacturing lead times are now measured in months rather than weeks, and where a PR campaign takes four months to execute, 2015 has actually been on my radar for some time.

The thing is, we’re going to be sort of different next year, I think. Our two biggest-selling bands aren’t going to be releasing anything for a while, if at all.  Sparrow and the Workshop are in double-baby meltdown/heaven (delete as appropriate) and Meursault are officially no more.

In terms of our more established bands, Adam Stafford is working on a new album, which should be reaching completion near the end of the year, David Thomas Broughton has a mental but brilliant transcontinental project planned, Meursault has become Neil Pennycook who has become Supermoon, and Rob St. John is also working on new recordings. And I haven’t heard much from The Leg recently either, which tends to mean a new album is somewhere in the future.

Before all of this, however, we’re likely to be releasing something like four debut albums, and these can be weird, mostly because they are so unpredictable. The Plastic Animals one is being mixed as we speak, Numbers Are Futile have finished theirs, Ian Turnbull from Broken Records has made a beautiful instrumental album which has just gone for mastering and there is something very rocky and boisterous which we are likely to be releasing but I can’t really announce just yet as I haven’t actually heard the record – tonight, apparently!

The upshot of all this is twofold. Firstly, we could look like a very different label by the middle of next year. All the new bands will give it a very different flavour, I think, and the music is a wee bit different from what we normally release, which is rather nice.

Also – and this is the part which gives me the most thought – a lot of the stuff we’ll be doing will be short-run, either because that’s the safest way to deal with debut albums or just because it is the nature of the project itself. We’re also going to start releasing some stuff on tape too, and these are short run pretty much by definition and should allow us to do a lot more spontaneous, informal recording in our new warehouse space.

Consequently, instead of not having anything by our two biggest-selling artists being a drawback, I actually think it could be turned into a real advantage in a way. I won’t be worrying as much about managing big PR and distribution campaigns, and I think by far the best way to make a virtue out of a necessarily short run is to make each one really quite different. Not that we didn’t put a lot of thought into our releases before, but it simply isn’t practical to give each artefact individual care and attention when you are making thousands of them, whereas with hundreds you can do something a bit more special.

I would like to work a lot closer with local artists and illustrators too, and maybe get them and the bands into the warehouse together and make the release more of a collaboration, get a printing station set up and do our own screen-printing, try and find really nice things to add to our releases beyond just giving people a record, be it art, photography, writing… anything which makes sense with the band and the music and which just makes each release that little bit more personal and that little bit more of a treat.

I don’t know quite how these changes will affect our reputation or the image this label has in the public eye, but it does go back to what we intended to do when we started out, which is to make short, DIY runs of interesting music that might not be obviously commercial, and not worry too much about being a junior version of a traditional record label, which frankly the world has more than enough of already.

So it’ll be different. But I think it’ll be ace – I’m really looking forward to it.

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Our Third Split 12″ Vinyl Is Here!

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Yep, that fine, yellow beauty up there is the third in our series of Split 12″s on Song, by Toad Records. You can buy one here, and I recommend you do, because it’s fucking awesome.

Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I. But it’s not just me, we’ve had radio play for this from Tom Ravenscroft, Gideon Coe, Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson, as well as a ton of support on Amazing Radio as well. It’s been brilliant, particularly given our traditionally patchy results with self-promoting to national radio. Anyhow, the launch nights are fast approaching, so I thought I should give you another wee nudge. Firstly we have Glasgow at Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s on the 24th July (tickets here), followed by our first Song, by Toad House Gig in the new place down in Leith on the 25th (tickets here). We’ll be getting the barbie on for this one before the gig (if it’s not raining) so bring something to throw on there if it’s nice.

And also, out of sheer, naive generosity, here is some more streaming fun for you – a cover of James Yorkston’s Chalkhill Blue by Sparrow and the Workshop. Side 2, track 1!

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Split 12″ v3 Launch Gigs

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Our third Split 12″ is nearly here, and this one was recorded up at the Insider Festival last year. The festival takes place up in the Highlands, and Nic Rue took some fantastic photos of the recording process, which you can see here.

We’ve got a couple of launch nights booked – one for Glasgow and one for Edinburgh – to welcome the record into the world in the nicest possible way. The Glasgow night is at Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s on Thursday 24th July, and the Edinburgh show is on the 25th, the day after, and will be the first house gig in our new place in Leith.

We’re planning to light the barbecue as well, so you can come down with some burgers if you want, and have something to eat with us before the show. It would be lovely to see you at either of these shows, so please do come down if you can – and you can pick up some lovely, clear yellow vinyl as well.

All the bands will be playing except for Sparrow and the Workshop, for baby-related reasons. So for all that’s a bit of a disappointment as far as these shows are concerned, it’s great news for Jill and Nick, and also saves me the hassle of trying to get four bands on stage in a relatively short space of time.

Tickets for the Glasgow show can be found here and to buy tickets for the Edinburgh house gig use the Paypal link below.

SOLD OUT NOW, SORRY

And partly to whet your appetite, and partly because it is just an absolutely sublime song, here is Dear God by Siobhan Wilson (who will henceforth be performing under the name Ella the Bird), our first single from the Split:

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3rd Song, by Toad Split 12″, with David Thomas Broughton, Jonnie Common, Siobhan Wilson & Sparrow and the Workshop

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This is the first song from our third Split 12” – Dear God by Siobhan Wilson. Pre-order the album on clear yellow vinyl here.

The third in our Split 12” series seemed set to be rather different to the first couple.

I was talking to Gordon from the Insider Festival in the Bailie in Edinburgh and he talked about collaborating on a vinyl release. Recording a Split 12” up at Inshriach House, on whose grounds the festival is held, seemed like the obvious option, but it also raised some questions.

Our house is such a strong part of the identity of these Split 12”s that I wasn’t sure what moving elsewhere would do the visual identity of the record, but more importantly, we are used to recording there. We know how to make the room sound good, and it’s our house, so the bands tend to be relaxed and therefore they usually play well too.

Still, we found four bands on the bill we really wanted to record with, and arranged to record David and Siobhan on the Friday and then Jonnie and Sparrow on the Saturday, so we figured we’d just head up there, adjust to whatever we found and try and make it work.

What we didn’t expect to find, however, was somewhere so similar to our living room in Edinburgh that it was basically like a home from home: a Georgian living room, full of old carpets and furniture, a large fireplace, with three full-height windows on one side and a door in the middle of the opposite wall. It was basically identical to the room we record in back home.

Nevertheless the process wasn’t without its problems. The festival was buzzing around us as we worked, and the bands’ live schedules put a bit more pressure on getting things done within a certain timeframe, and we had more nerves and more false starts than we’ve had before, as well as more songs retroactively rescinded by the artists as they weren’t happy with the takes, so this has meant a rather tougher post-production process than any of the other Split 12”s.

The album we’ve ended up making, however, is one of which I am really proud, as well as a lovely record of the Insider Festival itself. I love small festivals, as opposed to the trampled wastelands of the bigger ones, and this is one I’d been trying to get to for a few years now, so never mind recording, I was happy just to be able to go.

The setting was spectacular, and Nic, Rory, Neil and I slept on the floor of the room in which we were recording, meaning we woke to beautiful Highland scenery and really good coffee every day. Everyone who was based in Inshriach House was so incredibly friendly and so positive about the idea of making a record that we felt at home pretty much immediately, and being up in the Highlands away from normal working chores made it a surprisingly peaceful way to work.

And the unique working environment is probably why this album has worked out so nicely. I think it’s an unusual, but fantastic addition to our Split 12″ collection.

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Do the Gods Speak Esperanto

tumblr_static_tumblr_lnczwpcnjs1qzvd2s There are a couple of reasons for this post, one of which is kind of self-serving and will become obvious soon enough. The other is that this music is really rather lovely and I think you should hear it. You know, like the entire rest of this ridiculous blog I’ve been scribbling away at since sometime in 2004. Two thousand and fucking four!

It’s the Bastard Mountain album launch at the Queen’s Hall (see, told you I wasn’t very subtle!), and I know that instead of a support band we promised short sets from all the musicians involved in the collaboration, as this seemed to be more fitting with the overall project. However, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who comes along tonight, we can’t really have a Sparrow and the Workshop set so instead Jill will be playing with another project called Do the Gods Speak Esperanto.

I know a lot of people know of BDY_PRTS, her collaboration with Jenny Reeve from Strike the Colours, but where that is really rather poppy, this work with Sean from John Knox Sex Club has a far more folky feel.

I know people tend to reflexively throw the folk tag at pretty much all acoustic pop music, but in this case the phrasing and verse structure and the way the vocals interplay reminds me quite a lot more of traditional music than a lot of the stuff either Jill or Sean do with their main projects, despite both of these also having the folk tag applied to them at times too.

The Ballad of Accounting shows this lyrical style most obviously, with some call and response interspersed with some unusually traditional (by these two’s standards, anyway) protest folk singing.

And it’s gorgeously done. Ballad of Accounting is gently insistent, but the other two tunes on their Soundcloud page are light, sad, breezy and lovely. There is a little bit of string work in there too, although not that much, and mixed pretty low. Mostly it’s about the two vocals, which have just a touch of old-school cabaret about them but mostly just follow these lilting, intertwining paths with a slow, soothing ebb and flow.

So yes, these guys will be one of a couple of people (including Meursault, Rob St. John and Rory Sutherland) opening for Bastard Mountain tonight. The music will start at 8pm, so get down relatively early if you want to hear this as well as the other sets, before the Bastards play their album start to finish to end the evening.

See you there!

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Farewell, Bastard Mountain

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On 12th May we will be releasing the gorgeous Farewell, Bastard Mountain on 12″ vinyl and download. You can pre-order your copy here, if you’re feeling nice and helpful (this is always a big help for us in terms of cash-flow, in case you’re swithering).

Bastard Mountain are: Pete Harvey & Neil Pennycook from Meursault, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow & the Workshop, Rob St. John from eagleowl & Meursault, Rory Sutherland from Broken Records & Reuben Taylor formerly of James Yorkston & the Athletes.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was recorded in October 2012. Jill, Neil and Rob each brought three songs, one to sing themselves, and one each for the other two vocalists to sing. Over the course of a week the group wrote and recorded music to go with these new versions, the result of which is Farewell, Bastard Mountain.

It’s a record full of drones and textures, but not as dark and oppressive as that might lead you to imagine. Instead, the semi-improvised nature, live recording and playfulness of the album gives the record a real lightness and sense of unity, to the extent that the vinyl has been pressed without any track breaks at all, as it all just fits seamlessly together as a single piece of work.

This approach to collaborative music was inspired by the Cold Seeds album we did several years ago with Animal Magic Tricks, King Creosote and Meursault. That album was more ad-hoc, there was no real plan for how it was going to happen, the music was almost entirely improvised and it all sort of fell together by happy accident.

This time around we wanted to reproduce that level of experimentation and excitement, but once the musicians got together it turned into something more like a conventional band. They may not have had much time, but they still rehearsed everything a little and then recorded the bulk of each song live, playing off each other to mitigate the uncertainty of trying to record a song they’d only learned a couple of hours ago.

The results are absolutely beautiful, with new takes on older songs as well as new and previously unheard tunes by all three main songwriters, as well as a first ever officially released song by Rory Sutherland which we all liked so much we’re pushing him to write a solo record as soon as possible.

Tracks written by:
Meadow Ghosts & Palisade: Rob St. John, Drone Armatrading: Rory Sutherland, The Mill, New Boy & Pissing on Bonfires: Neil Pennycook, Swam Like Sharks, Old Habits & My Crime: Jill O’Sullivan, Something On Your Mind: Dino Valenti.

Album launch shows:
London – Shhh! Festival, Sat. 24th May. Tickets here.
Edinburgh – Queen’s Hall, Thu. 29th May. Tickets here.

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Song, by Toad Records Sampler 2014

a1625803646_2 Yep, it’s that time of year again – the time when I try and parlay your loyalty and support into something altogether more cynical and tawdry: email addresses for our mailing list.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Actually, you do get plenty in return for either your email address or modest donation: ten fantastic songs from our upcoming releases in 2014.

This includes an exclusive new track from Sparrow and the Workshop, a sneak peak at our next Split 12″ and a song from a fantastic collaborative album between David Thomas Broughton and the Juice vocal ensemble, due out in September.

So happy, erm, I don’t know, is it Easter soon? Or Chinese New Year? Well happy them, then, and don’t say we never give you anything.

Song, by Toad Records Sampler on Bandcamp.

2. Ilona, You Should Still be My Vampire Attendant by Virgin of the Birds (4.39) 
A slick pop classic from Abandoned Love, part of our Five Years/Five Records anniversary box set. We’re also releasing the next album by the band, who are from Seattle: Winter Seeds, out on 7th April.

3. Photosynth (Split 12” version) by Jonnie Common (4.58) 
This is an off-cut from our third Split 12” album, which we recorded up at the Insider Festival in June last year. The others on the split are David Thomas Broughton, Sparrow and the Workshop and Siobhan Wilson.,

4. Sex Acts by Animal Magic Tricks (3.10) 
Another from our Five Years/ Five Records box set, this is from Brighton-based Animal Magic Tricks debut album Sex Acts. Frances’ last appearance on one of our releases was with Meursault and King Creosote on the Cold Seeds album from 2009.

6. Yorkshire Fog by David Thomas Broughton & Juice (3.54) 
Vocal ensemble Juice and experimental pop maverick David Thomas Broughton will be releasing a collaborative album with us in September 2014.

7. Ghosts by Plastic Animals (4.47) 
After their brilliant contribution to our second Split 12”, released last year alongside the Beer vs. Records project, we are currently working on Plastic Animals’ debut album. This song will be on there, but this version is an old one.

8. Dear God by Siobhan Wilson (5.08) 
Another gorgeous song from the Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, this is also from the third Split 12” recorded up at the Insider Festival.

10. Dirt & the Roots (2014 version) by Meursault (3.24) 
Another tune from the Five Years/ Five Records box set, this is from Kissing on Bonfires by Meursault which is a complete, start-to-finish re-record of their classic 2008 debut album.

11. In Heaven by Naked (4.29) 
The b-side to the Edinburgh band’s debut single Lie Follows Lie, which we released last year, with their follow-up effort Tell Me What is Not Yet Said due for release in May.

12. Switches by The Leg (3.27) 
From The Leg’s gloriously abrasive 2008(ish) album What Happened to the Shrunken Tina Turner, this is as gentle a song as there probably is on the album. Another from our box set.

14. One Brush by Sparrow & the Workshop (2.22)
And finally, we finished with an exclusive new tune by Sparrow and the Workshop. This was an off-cut from their brilliant album Murderopolis, which we released last year. The band are also on the Insider Split 12”, out in June.

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Toadcast #288 – Song, by Toad Records 2014

Sampler 2014 SleeveWelcome to our sneak preview of Song, by Toad Records’ plans for 2014. For the most part this is the exact track listing in the exact order of the free sampler we’ll be putting up for download soon, although there are a couple of little tweaks.

I’ve even snuck in a special wee preview of Bastard Mountain – a tune which won’t be on the sampler – primarily because that spot will be taken by The Leg, but I’ve played quite enough from Shrunken Tina Turner in the last few months, so I thought I would give you an exclusive treat, seeing as you’re one of the 4-500 people who download this thing religiously every week.

Actually, I suppose far fewer actually download it every single week – maybe you’re one of the 8-900 people who download the podcasts ‘when they think about it’, which results in that regular listenership of about 500. Who knows how many ‘kinda’ fans you have to have to regularly get 500 listeners in the first week, but I bet it’s a fuck of a lot more than 500. Anyway, however many of you there are, it’s a wee treat for you. You’re welcome!

Toadcast #288 – Song, by Toad Records 2014 by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #287 – The Hibercast

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01. Virgin of the Birds – Ilona, You Should Still Be My Vampire Attendant (00.22)
02. Jonnie Common – Photosynth (Split 12″ version) (09.00)
03. Animal Magic Tricks – Sex Acts (16.30)
04. David Thomas Broughton & Juice – Yorkshire Fog (19.45)
05. Plastic Animals – Ghosts (26.42)
06. Siobhan Wilson – Dear God (33.00)
07. Meursault – Dirt & the Roots (2014 version) (39.47)
08. NAKED – In Heaven (43.27)
09. Bastard Mountain – Something on Your Mind (53.27)
10. Sparrow and the Workshop – One Brush (59.16)

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So, What’s Happening This Year at Song, by Toad Records

friends019 I am sorry to do this to you, because I am well aware that posts about the label have been completely overwhelming the posts which are just about new music recently but, well, it’s the New Year, and that’s what I find myself mulling over at this time of year, sorry.

So, what do we have to look forward to from Scotland’s most cantankerous label in 2014? Well, maybe I’ll start by contrasting it with last year instead, because I think there will be a slight shift in emphasis, but it probably won’t look all that different from the outside.

To a large extent this is down to the releases we have in the schedule for this year, which are pretty notably different to last. Last year we were facing up to substantial investment in the Sparrow and the Workshop album, as well as putting a lot of money in Beer vs. Records, and also doing our first release with Adam Stafford. None of this is exactly huge on a global scale, but we knew we were working with artists who were a lot more established than usual, had a few albums under their belt, and had a pre-existing audience, particularly here in Scotland.

This doesn’t mean we felt we had to aim for the stars particularly, but when a band comes to you having achieved a certain level already, then at the very least you have to live up to that, and then try your damnedest to exceed it. So we pushed quite hard for quite a few things last year, investing more and seeing if we could nudge perception of the label to a new level.

Generally that went really well, but this year our projects aren’t really suitable for that kind of approach, so I think we’ll end up working a little differently.

Firstly, we have a couple of debut albums, one (which isn’t strictly a debut album in fact, but is as far as a UK audience is concerned) by Virgin of the Birds, and then later in the year, one by Edinburgh’s Plastic Animals. Debut albums are very, very hard to predict, honestly. Sometimes we’ve had a great reception and sometimes we’ve faced blanket indifference, but the fact that people have generally not heard of the band in question means you’re often fighting a bit of a battle to get writers to take an interest, although once they do, the results can be brilliant.

You have to run a fairly measured campaign though, because it’s pretty impossible to tell what level of investment is commercially justified, simply because you can’t really tell what people’s reactions to the band are likely to be. That’s largely why people tend to release a couple of singles in advance – just to test the waters – but we don’t release a lot of bands who really suit singles, so I tend not to approach things that way.

As well as these two we have a bunch of weird projects, all of which are hugely exciting, but none of which scream ‘runaway commercial success’ at me.

We have the next Split 12″, for example, recorded up at the Insider Festival last June with David Thomas Broughton, Sparrow and the Workshop, Siobhan Wilson and Jonnie Common. The Split 12″s are great (see v1 and v2 here), and I am immensely proud of them, but they are never going to crack the Top 40, because they are basically just compilations. They are short runs of extremely beautiful vinyl, but they are made more for our own and our more devoted fans’ enjoyment as the opportunity to explore new things, rather than being aimed at shifting thousands of units.

We’ve also got a record which we made by deciding to have a go at reproducing the collaborative and experimental spirit of the Cold Seeds album. We invited Jill from Sparrow and the Workshop, Neil and Pete from Meursault, and Rory from Broken Records as well as Reuben Taylor and Rob St. John to come round to our house and record a mixture of one another’s songs, and the results are absolutely stunning. It has ended up being a long way from Cold Seeds, so we’re calling it Farewell, Bastard Mountain, but I am seriously excited to get it out there and see what people make of it.

Again, because of not having a specific band to hang the record from, I am not sure how much traction we’ll get, but fuck it. I don’t want to compromise too much with the PR for this one. I don’t really want to start hunting for catchy singles for radio play or worry about what reviewers will think of the first twenty seconds of what they hear. It’s brilliant as it is, and people can either embrace it or fuck off.

I can’t tell you too much about what’s actually on the record, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but there will be a version of this tune, and a rather gorgeous one at that:

Before any of that, we have our first release of 2014: the new single by NAKED, who played an absolute blinder at our New Year’s House Gig recently. It will be another wonderfully designed package, and another couple of wonderfully catchy tunes, and I am really looking forward to it.

And finally, a couple of more enigmatic things to mention.  Firstly, we will be working with David Thomas Broughton later on in the year. I don’t want to say too much because we are still working on the actual release, so can’t really announce too much just yet, but both things we’re discussing are absolutely fantastic, and David is a musician I’ve hugely admired ever since seeing him for the first time at the End of the Road Festival back in ummm… 2008 I think it was.

So a lot of these projects are more suited, I think, to shorter runs of nice records and a marketing campaign which is more specific than it is broad.  I think it will give us more of a feeling of being a niche label doing interesting things, rather than doing larger scale releases by established bands and ticking all the boxes that that kind of thing requires. This is a good thing, because I like that balance of populism and obscurity, and I think we have to get a bit better at telling which of our releases are which and approaching them accordingly.

Oh yes, and secondly, Meursault’s fourth album is now finished too. No idea what’s happening with it just yet, but it is finished.

And with that, GIN O’CLOCK!

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Toadcast #286 – The Fivecast

tag Yup, as you know, Song, by Toad Records is five years old so I thought a brief spin through the history of the label would be in order because, well, why the fuck not. There’s quite a lot of stuff in the vaults here which has long since vanished into the mists of time, and it’s interesting to look back at how we started, in two senses.

Firstly, the roster was very obviously unrecognisable, primarily because it didn’t really exist yet. We had a couple of pals who were willing to let us try and help promote their self-recorded bits and bobs, and some folk we thought were talented and knew were unsigned, but had no idea what they would make of us suggesting we try putting out their music for them.

And secondly, there is the ambition. We started out expecting to do little more than assisting people with a self-release. We assumed we’d be working with scrappy little demos and bits of home-recorded EPs and things like that – just trying to get the bands a little bit of extra publicity which they didn’t necessarily have the time to try and achieve for themselves.

It think it’s safe to say that, looking back five years later, I absolutely never in a million years dreamed we’d end up where we are now. Nor did I have the slightest understanding of how much we’d have to achieve, just to only get this far! But Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. Apparently it took ages.

Toadcast #286 – The Fivecast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #286 – The Fivecast

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01. Meursault – The Furnace (00.20)
02. Uhersky Brod – Seeing Ben Lomond (07.37)
03. Nightjar – Lady of the Calico (14.47)
04. The Savings and Loan – Swallows (18.07)
05. Jesus H. Foxx – I’m Half the Man You Were (25.57)
06. Loch Lomond – Elephants and Little Girls (33.06)
07. Cold Seeds – The Perfume of Mexican Birds (41.19)
08. Trips and Falls – And in Real Life He Wears Corduroy Pants (50.53)
09. Yusuf Azak – The Key Underground (55.15)
10. Rob St. John – Domino (1.03.30)
11. Waiters – So-S0 (1.12.31)
12. Sparrow and the Workshop – Autumn to Winter (1.19.40)
13. The Leg – A Rat’s Health (1.26.00)