Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Toy - Toy

 

When you find yourself in the good books of modern-day rock favorites, The Horrors, that usually means one of two things: one, you dress in the same all-black time-warping young-rocker attire; or two, you're akin to making just-as-grand multilayer psychedelic rock that you find yourself relating to one another. Fortunately for Toy, both are correct, and that's not just because the two bands are close friends of one another. Take a look inside the case to their self-titled debut and you'll find a double-spread of the five-piece - their long-hair, deep stares and the appliance of fog-like purple colors suggesting this band could easily have come straight out of 70s Cologne let alone 21st century London. And what you'll find in the music will only emphasize the similarity not so much with their present counterparts, but with the influence of their past seniors; the Londoners' debut here a wash of Kosmiche experimentation and psychedelic venturing throughout.

The first aspect of this record that will hit you like a steam train is the vastness in the record's tone and wash of layering. Much like its cover, each of these individual tracks is held by this same gaseous fog of experimental instrumentation and positioning of vocals over instruments, and vice versa. Opener 'Colours Running Out', much unlike it's name, is quick to cement this ideology, stretching riffs of guitars panning wildly left and right between vocals that neither lose themselves nor demand attention brought onto them. 'The Reasons Why' however, makes a fundamental point as to the band's credentials as more than just a shoegaze-meets-garage outfit. Here, percussion is given more room to breathe - even in a sound that addresses itself more like some warped panorama of Jupiter than a landscape somewhere amidst the ecosystem of our Earth - and while the stretch of instrumentation is cosmic in its exploration, it's the very stream of riffs that break free from the fog of layering, that catches the ear and proves Toy's chances at rocking stadiums and music gatherings as much as they do celestial bodies.

But away from the future-scope of galactic exploration and flares of cosmic rock, one of the reasons why Toy's sound works so well amidst the space and flurry of their sound - and thus, why I bring up 70s Germany once more - is the simplicity of the band's generation of ideas. Sure, the layering and appliance of it comes in and alters the face of the band's music. But at the heart of all that, there is this fundamental driving longing to reach some coexistence of sound and substance. 'Dead & Gone' which showcases the band's more progressive kiddish what-does-this-button-do type of naivety, in result, creates an impressive swirl of past, present and future tense the track comes out like some highly-charged smoothie of flavour, texture and responsive delight. Much like the monotonous-but-captivating drive of a track like 'Hallogallo' or the psychedelic voyaging of 'Phallus Dei', tracks such as these feel as much liberating as they are exciting in how they traverse the seven-minute length of its duration. As a result of this, I find myself often showing more consideration and intrigue for tracks that show a little more exploratory intrigue than those that suggest, not so much a conformity, but a comfort in this recurring theme of foggy psych-garage fusion.

It's fortunate then that tracks like 'Motoring' come chugging along, less focused on the clarity of their mix and instead focused more importantly on the drive (yes, more unintentional puns) and the band's willingness to meet the vibrating wave of guitar rock with vocalist Tom Dougall's rowdy yet collected rummage of tone, at half-way. It's more than just balance and compromise here though - the track steady in its burst of energy - unlike previous tracks, the output is a lot more sought-for rather than wrestled against and violently spat out through the speakers. And on follower 'My Heart Skips A Beat', we find Dougall retreating quite modestly into more bold and emotive expression, vocals here more focused and secretive in their display as if deliberately holding back in honesty rather than content. 'The best thing is to walk away...Fall back into yesterday/Won't need to worry anymore' The clambering height of guitars and the pausing hesitance of the drumbeat only emphasizes the more innocently human aspect to the band's method of song-writing. The best thing about this is that it demonstrates Toy's understanding of how far they've dared to take their music, and as if the penny has dropped, finds their writing retreating into more analytical and questioning streams. 'Now on the other side, gazing down from such a height/It's easier to let it slide/And wake up when I'm in full flight' True, the choice in words doesn't suggest anything of any major depth or philosophical context, but what matters is that when it comes to cutting into the scale of their sound, Toy dissects it with a scalpel of stargazing tone.

As the album approaches its closing stages, there's a somewhat fitting dressing down of the band's output in their mixture. 'Walk Up To Me' comes across as if it's already exhausted itself out, a cavernous yawn of wind wailing in the background as a fuzz of guitars lead Dougall's return to stone-cold vocals through the darkened hollowness of the track's production. While I wouldn't say it's necessarily the weakest output here, it does on the flip side, suggest this band is willing to meet its limits and address them. For that, there is some due credit. But on the album's final offering, 'Kopter', all doubt and self-substantiated belief that the record will end on a whimper rather than the band we've been used to, is quickly and drastically wiped away. What we experience instead is the pinnacle and sum of Toy's skills as both a band and a proving ground for the psychedelic and the cosmic. Again we are greeted by the repeating grooves of percussion. Again we are welcomed by Dougall's retreating stance of vocals amidst the cloud of delay and flanger that surrounds the string instrumentation. Finally...again, the band unleash a tsunami of kaleidoscopic colour and texture in their sound, unfolding - as if origami in reverse - of an expanding plane of explosive mystery and ambiguity that blows everything set before it, into the vast coldness of space.

It's that fair and allowable notion of wanting to explore that a lot of music followers find so captivating whenever a band reach for the stars, rather than each other when developing their sound. For Toy, that idea of leaving the circling exosphere of rock and melody stretches further than simply making their experimental deliverance more believable and worthy of being taken seriously. But it's that very sharp and fixated belief that comes across in vast portions here on their debut. What we have is a band that - while looking to the past for inspiration and the present for confidence - use their identity in sound to the full, but refuse to stick to any geographic spot because of it. The mapping of their ventures stretch far and wide, and through the sweeps of guitar riffs, somber retreat/attack waves of vocals, and most importantly, the appreciation of the space around them, Toy lose neither their appeal as a band of musicians, nor their focus as a band of musicians with ideas. And it's this same idea of moving on and expanding outwards, that ends up coursing through the album, unwilling to lose any factor of its blazing passion.
~Jordan

8.0

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