3 Nov 2016

TOY / Clear Shot (album review)

Image result for toy clear shot
TOY are a band who have always been a near perfect post-modern psychedelia pastiche. On TOY, they enveloped psychedelic pop curiosities with fleshed out krautrock song structures in a way that was pretty pleasing to the ear. On Join The Dots, they furthered that sound, and climaxed with maxed-out 10 minute jams that started with a savage pace that didn't slow down. The London day-trippers burrowed away in the studio a bit longer before the release of album number 3, and whilst it probably sees them forge out a sound of their own more than ever before, you can't help but feel that what it misses are driving NEU! drumbeats and a bit more raw power.

Dream Orchestrator is the one track that definitely denies any notion that the TOY we know from Join The Dots is amiss. Seeming to be the most poppy AND experimental the band get on the album, its key parts are completely showstopping. Constantly building up, changing key, and transcending to a higher place as the song winds and winds, it brings thick and fast a kinda borrowed nostalgia for the sixties that only the dreamiest and best executed psych-pop can.

Clouds That Cover The Sun is a song that instantly turned me off when I heard it as a single, but after a few listens it sticks with you most as a really memorable number. The big, wilting tones of the guitars and the childlike chord progression bring the electric kool aid psych vibes straight to the fore. The band at their most accessible and least tedious, it's about as catchy as the band get, and oddly enough, in a kinda vague, hard-to-explain way it might make you feel a bit travelsick.

Clear Shot does also see the band try to get a bit darker, or at least a bit less sunshiney than the rest of their back catalogue. On Jungle Games, and the final two songs Spirits Don't Lie and Cinema, the band try to sound a bit off, a bit creepy. Spirits Don't Lie is a number that saunters along, mysterious guitar tones and ominous buzzes really make your skin crawl; frontman Tom Dougall forlornly asks "do I take up too much of your time?" atop what could easily be the Vangelis score to a bad dream. Cinema is a track that, whilst feeling a bit overly shapeless, features some glistening guitar tones and closes with a transcendent catharsis of guitar noise that calls to mind images of Slowdive and Phillip Glass proceeding dark, murkier section in a way that is almost beautiful.

Jungle Games is a different kettle of fish, in that the weird noises - however satisfying, and however vintage synthesiser - don't make up for the real lack of memorable song here. The track saunters along, and Dougall's voice sounds too monotonous for it to really ever be enjoyable, a theme recurrent through most the first half of the album; Fast Silver and Another Dimension especially, the moments that are most boring on the record. Although, again, can't complain about the brilliant synth sound, the rest of the track is about as by-numbers plaintive psych pop as they come.

I'm aware that I'm beginning to waffle; but that's deliberate. That's meta. This article is structured like one of TOY's more boring numbers. There's structure and maybe brilliance somewhere, but you're probably bored by the time you find it. There are moments of brilliance on here. The whole songs of Spirits Don't Lie and Dream Orchestrator are long moments of brilliance. And the last minute of Cinema. The first synth motif of Jungle Games. The middle 8 of Clear Shot. There are moments of brilliance. But I guess like on the band's first two albums, but to a greater extent, this isn't an engaging listen all the way through. It'll grip you for a few listens, but quickly gather record collection dust. TOY show time and time again that they've probably got a great album in there somewhere, but - especially after more than a few listens - Clear Shot is anything but.


(Words: Cal Cashin)