TOY have a lot of nerve. There’s not many bands that would gamble releasing their second album during the second week of December, a time of year the music industry primarily dedicates to releasing nigh profit margin compilations, or the dreaded Christmas Album. There’s also not many bands that would open that same album with a seven minute instrumental track, and even fewer that would make a decent job of it. TOY do though, and well done to them for holding their nerve.
I’ll admit it, I was pretty ignorant of TOY until I heard this album. While I knew it was their second album and that they were a hotly tipped British quintet with a penchant for psychedelia, I hadn’t actually heard anything by them before. So why should you take any notice of this review? Because as it turns out Join the Dots is a nice introduction to a very promising young band.
Many young acts would have fumbled opening their album with a seven minute track like “Conductor”, but Toy have enough confidence to see such a confident opening gambit through to its logical conclusion and don’t wimp out half way through. “Conductor” is no formless jam either. It maintains its dynamic sense of purpose throughout and never loses track of where the tune is either.
After such a confident start to the album, the next two racks manage your expectations by not trying to so much improve on the opener, but to give the listener a better idea of what TOY are about. They’re a capable neo-psychedelic indie group, they’re a musically tight unit and while the vocals being a little buried in the mix takes a while to get used to, Tom Dougall’s a decent enough vocalist.
When I first listened to this album, I have to say, I wasn’t too sure of it at first, that was until the title track erupted into life and confirmed that TOY are very much a band to keep your ears out for over the next few years. “Join the Dots” is also the pre-album single and is probably the most commercial moment on the album. Whereas prior on the album you get the feeling that after the opening instrumental the band may have been keeping their powder dry and building to something special, “Join the Dots” is the pay-off. With Dougall and fellow guitar player Dominic O’Dair’s twin squalling guitars featuring prominently throughout the song, I found it striking that the member of the band that most impressed me was bass player Maxim Barron. The whole band nail the song, but Barron’s playing leaps out at me in a way that no other bass player has since Colin Moulding on XTC’s Oranges and Lemons. Once Barron’s playing catches your attention, you start to notice it during the rest of the album too, to the point where it becomes something of a feature throughout.
Join the Dots eventually concludes with “Fall Out of Love”, which does an incredible job of reminding you of everything you have enjoyed about the album, as well as allowing the band to once again stretch their musical legs on another epic. While the majority of acts struggle to record a song that holds my attention over the five and a half minute mark, it’s something of a speciality for TOY as they manage to do it no less than three separate occasions on Join the Dots, to the point where they are by far and away my favourite tunes on the album.
At just over an hour in length, Join the Dots is a generous musical offering that I initially considered to be overlong. After a few listens though I realised that it’s an album best digested in quarters, as you would a double album on vinyl. By starting each quarter at “Conductor”, “Join the Dots”, “It’s Been So Long” and “Frozen Atmosphere” respectively, it allows each of the songs a bit of breathing space and the shorter numbers don’t get overwhelmed by the three longer tracks. Maybe this isn’t what he band intended, but hey, that’s how I learned to love albums like New Adventures in Hi-fi and Physical Graffiti, so they’re in good company if nothing else.