Toy have been garnering good reports from both big publications and fellow buzz bands – The Horrors, who TOY have already supported, among other people – and this debut LP follows a couple of ear-catching singles. Despite their young ages the group are reminiscent of acts such as Neu (the Sunday Times in their review already latched on to the fact TOY rhymes with Neu), the Telescopes, House of Love, and more recently, Early Years, eschewing the pop-with-the-slightest-indie-twist homage to Bloc Party and Vampire Weekend that far too many young new UK guitar bands have gone for. They all have a tendency to look similar. If you take a look at any pictures of this band they can’t be accused of looking the same as everyone else.
TOY are less obviously pop. They are not totally adverse to the verse-chorus, over in under four-minutes thing but they are also quite fond of veering off midway through a song, all jamming in half-parts shoegaze, half-parts psychedelic freakout. Even when they do this however, they don’t do it in a manner that’s too difficult to grasp or too self-indulgent. It’s all pretty friendly and bright.
When they do decide to go down the more ‘normal’ route they, in a strange and contradictory way, actually come up with possibly the record’s strongest tune, the lovely ‘Lose My Way’. It’s a love song and its dreamy, swirling keyboard-coated chorus is worth quoting: “I never thought I’d lose my way over you / what did I do / you never thought the kind of pain I went though / now it’s coming for you / what will you do”. ‘Dead and Gone’, a slower paced, steady grower of a tune impresses too and certainly reinforces the House of Love comparisons, to the point where you can really imagine the voice of Guy Chadwick singing on it. While we’re on topic, throughout the record is becomes clear that Tom Dougall’s voice isn’t one of the stronger ones in rock. Maybe this is something he’ll improve on, or maybe another way of looking at it is, does it actually matter?
‘Heart Skips a Beat’, another love song, is another pretty piece of pyche-rock easy listening and is given a helping hand by Alejandra Diez’s high-tuned keyboard washes. In fact, much of ‘TOY’ is given a certain look-up-at-the-sky-in-wonder, pretty quality to them, and is to Diez that it owes this trait. ‘Strange’ is another one worth mentioning, firing straight in on a wayward jam before things get quiet and the vocals arrive. It’s certainly an interesting tune, squeels of feedback and broodiness like the kind of thing Echo and the Bunnymen mastered on their fabulous Ocean Rain record. It’s also an example of TOY as experimental, and it’s not bad at all. For TOY, you see, it’s about the feeling, the imagery, the music. They are not there yet, but with this album it’s certainly a pretty cracking effort. With their influences in the right place and enough talent to say something new, the signs are healthy.
This is the return of the mighty Animal Collective after three-and-a-half years without a proper LP, the breakthrough album Merriweather Post Pavilion, the moment all the plaudits they had been receiving up until then was suddenly matched by commercial appeal and wider recognition. Merriweather’s brand of sunny experimental psychedelia hit the spot for many, coming along at just the right time, and sounding like not much else around. While there are now a plethora of copycats, Animal Collective are the only people to sound like Animal Collective, and this new record unmistakably underlines that point.
The CD sleeve of ‘Centipede Hz’ informs you that this time round the lyrics are printed, an odd treat considering that – and this writer might be alone in this – Animal Collective, with their weird, alternative soundscapes, are not a band whose lyrics are of great concern. For instance, the typically tricky yet occasionally catchy ‘Applesause’ includes the following: “when a farmer picks a good thing / then a kid he picks a good thing / then a chef she makes a good thing / then a mayor eats a good thing”. This band doesn’t write songs about break-ups, that just wouldn’t suit their lovable bonkers style. Listening to ‘Centipede Hz’ it’s no unmissable to hear interesting similarities with ’80s-era Peter Gabriel, which is certainly not in any way an outlandish comparison. Ahem.
The single that preceded the album’s release, the modern-day sprightly psychedelia of ‘Today’s Supernatural’ is arguably the most convenient or ‘commercial’ thing on here, but it is by no means the best, while the more dreamy and contemplative, synth-strewn ‘New Tom Burnout’ and ‘Pulleys’ sound close to something from the solo Panda Bear record, as opposed to something off ‘Merriweather’.
The production across much of this LP is more tightly knitted together, less airy and wide-eyed, not as wholly spangle-coloured when set against Merriweather Post Pavilion. Winners such as the always changeable ‘Amanita’, and ‘Monkey Riches’ contain mesmerising vocal harmonies that have the listener unsure of where exactly the tracks are heading. Backed by music of tribal-like, almost nasea inducing motion, they are what saves the LP in the end.