A few days back Matthew Young who runs Song, By Toad Records let slip that he was calling it a day. While a decade of doing anything is a lot and it’s often better for everyone that people move on and do new stuff, Song, By Toad will be missed – not least by me. I no longer have the energy to tackle the daunting acres of music that roll away to an ever-receding horizon. I find it impossible to engage with streamed music on anything other than superficial level. So I need other ways to avoid locking myself off into my existing record collection.
A record shop can help. A as can a reviews site. But there’s nothing better than finding a record label run by someone with similar taste. Backing their own calls with effort and money, they are far firmer ground than someone like me knocking out the odd online review. I’m no completist – I’ve not grabbed everything on Song, By Toad. But such is their consistency I’ve often taken a punt on an album blind – liked it enough on first listen and then had it grow onto a nailed on favourite. So by way of a thank you I thought I’d share a few highlights. In any given week this lot, and others not mentioned, can make up a huge chunk of my listening.
The Leg – An Eagle to Saturn. A promo of this is where I came in. It was like someone had tailored a record to me personally. Starting (sort of) from a folk base, it wanders off all over the place in turns discordantly, ebulliently, whimsically and elegantly. Weirdly The Leg call to my mind nothing so much as the Butthole Surfers. They have a similar way of wringing both genuine pathos and threat out of their meanderings.
Bastard Mountain – Farewell, Bastard Mountain. It was impossible not to pick this up based entirely on the name. That it had The Leg cellist Pete Harvey and longtime James Yorkston associate, Reuben Taylor on board sealed the deal. A collaborative effort with a range of artists working on each others songs, this was my introduction to a number of Song, By Toad regulars including Neil Pennycook and Rob St John. At odds with the title, it’s a beautiful album, with a mixture of excellent and beautiful songs such as the opening, Palace Brothers-like Meadow Ghosts with more textural instrumental (I’m not sure about the title of Drone Armatrading, but it’s a terrific track).
Meursault – Pissing On Bonfires / Kissing With Tongues (or is it the other way around?). I don’t know why it took me so long ot get around to Meursault. But after a couple of years coveting the 5 year anniversary box-set I carved out the cash. The whole box is a treasure trove (the Animal Magic Tricks album is an especially odd gem), but Meursault’s first album just hit me hard and true. The mixture of folk and electronica sounds nowt like what you might file under folktronica. Neil Pennycook somehow blends desperation and melancholy with a euphoric warmth. It’s an album both to sooth the soul and lift the spirits. Pennycook has put out loads of fabulous stuff since, but I’m always going to come back to the likes of Salt and A Few Kind Words.
Virgin Of The Birds – Secret Kids. I could have picked any of Jon Rooney’s collegey indie rock releases. For no reason other than he writes really good songs. Smart, with a downplayed humour and bleary warmth, they just keep growing on you.
digitalanalogue – Be Embraced, You Millions. A Broken Records side project, it a determinedly intimate and low key collection of instrumental pieces that draw you steadily in and give a real sense of place and relationship.
Split 12″ Volume 2 – Even from a distance (I’ve never even been to Edinburgh) you could feel the sense of community around Song, By Toad, with plenty of sessions at Matthew Young’s house and a series of mini-compilations that embraced a wider range of interesting musicians. Volume 4, with a number of the artists mentioned above, is superb (Jim Henson Memorial Bench Low-Down Manhattan Town Tour Blues, by Neil Pennycook’s Supermoon incarnation tugs at my hearts string for some very specific reasons). But volume 2 is where it dawned on me that I was going to be able to trust pretty much anything the label put out. A mixed bag of tracks by Zed Penguin, Plastic Animals, Magic Eye and Le Thug, they were all new to me and all hit different marks.
Adam Stafford – Fire Behind the Curtain. Reviewed elsewhere on this site, it isn’t going to be overtaken as album of the year. On hearing Stafford’s first Song, By Toad album, it was great but I thought the songs needed space to grow and stretch out. All the tracks on this largely instrumental LP get that space to wonderful effect. I dunno about neo-classicism, but the first disc of the album is clever and intricate. The second is more sinister and foreboding, but always excellent and affecting. It’s wonderful.
So let’s bid a celebratory farewell to Song, By Toad. There’s plenty of gaps for me to fill and plenty of names to follow as they go on. And any short-term pangs of regret? Well the label’s strapline has the solution. Gin and swearing. Fucking cheers guys.