Toy – Join the dots – A Reflection
When Toy emerged with their first tracks just under two years ago, it tapped into a fresh recognition of sounds that The Horrors had ushered back into the public conscience with their Primary Colours album of 2009. Joe Meeks freakbeat, shoegaze and late 60s psychedelia (not the San Francisco kind) were back in. Tame Impalas Lonerism and Toys album followed suit and more recent releases from Hookworms and Wooden Shjips continue the endorsement of a druggy sounding kind of rock, shaded a gharish purple and orange haze.
Toys debut was fully formed and direct in what it set out to achieve, merging krautrock, classic early 90s indie and shoegaze sounds, their intention was to play these sounds with an acknowledgement of the glory of pop music, intention realised: it contained some truly jaw-dropping moments.
After a year on the road, we now come to this point, Join The Dots, the sophomore release. Coming so soon after their debut indicates a disciplined work ethic. Pretty soon after delving in, it becomes inherently clear that the band has concentrated on being Toy rather than indulging in any drastic development of new sounds or direction.
The album begins strangely, an instrumental. Impressively funky basslines and spooked out synthesiser sounds alongside drums that almost sound like hip hop breaks, it’s interesting but as an opener it’s bizarre, it’s like a statement of intent but there’s nothing else as beefy or weirded out that follows so despite it being a strong track, it feels like it’s just an instrumental plonked onto the beginning.
There are noticeable tweaks, the aforementioned elements of funk on the intro, the backing vocals are much stronger, and Charlie Salvidge has continued morphing into a human drum machine programmed only to recognise the drum patterns of Neu! ‘You won’t be the same‘ contains sweet Byrdsian guitar chimes and some of the indiest backing vocals ever, showing off a new found Teenage Fanclub influence. The vocals in general have a little more clarity to them but the biggest progression is that of Alejandra Diez’s influence. Her work here is absolutely key. Her inventive use of Korg organs and synths elevates the band from good to great, some of her strokes here are pure genius.
One of the standouts, ‘To a Death Unknown’, follows the same template as the shattering experiment in noise that is their track ‘Dead and Gone’. The track begins in a regular mid-pace not building up to much, then halfway through, the niceties end and the slices of hard white noise come in, layer upon layer of guitars pile on top of each other creating the kind of noise you’d expect from someone trying to play a plastic mouth organ, unfortunately it goes on for way too short an amount of time, they refuse to indulge the ears, this is what TOY excel in.
Other highlights are the almost soppy romanticisms of ‘Endlessly‘, the most overtly ‘krauty’ title track ‘Join The Dots’, the elongated intro of which is directly influenced by very early Kraftwerk, the thrilling guitar breakdown which closes the tune could be from the rockier edge of shoegaze from acts such as Swervedriver or Catherine Wheel and ‘It’s Been So Long’ shows that they are perfectly capable of throwing out a short punky blast of noise, think ‘Isn’t Anything’ era MBV.
The highlights of course have Diez at the forefront, her sweet synths on ‘Left to Wander’ give the track an enveloping feel of femininity, taking on a similar role to Candida from Pulp. Whillst on ‘Too Far Gone to Know’, she kills all over this track, beginning as a slow yearning grind of a track, her synths initially are reminiscent of the keys used on Smashing Pumpkins moment of true greatness, 1998s Adore. Halfway through the track doubles in speed with the continuation of the synths and some freaked out bleeps straight from a forgotten B Movie via Grandaddy’s ‘Software Slump’ album, performing both riffs as if they were guitar solos, it’s intoxicating stuff.
To consolidate her importance,where Diez’s influence is not so apparent, the sound suffers. Tracks like ‘As We Turn’ and ‘Frozen Atmosphere’ sound pretty basic without her. Toy’s strengths lie in repetition, building layers upon each other to increase the dramatic tension. The aforementioned tracks don’t do this. The album closes with the now expected lengthy closer, ‘Fall out of Love’, a frenetic 10 minutes that takes in Cocteau Twins, jazzy drum breaks, sludgy grunge, filthy fuzz bass and further delectable organ work from Diez wrapping an almost middle eastern sheen over what is a euphoric last dance with Toy, for now.
All in all ‘Join The Dots’ is a sturdy follow up to their debut, but there’s nothing on offer here that we knew they were already so good at doing, it’s like they’re keeping something away from us, like we’re not ready to hear it from them. There’s a totally psychedelic brain freeze of an album in Toy, they just need to stop being so conservative and let loose and reach into the compartments of the mind where all the dark shit is kept, without making any pacts with devils obviously. Right now however, ‘Join the Dots’ will fill the gap prior to future greatness very well.