Song, by Toad Records’ Year in Review
Phew, fucking hell, nearly there! Another year comes careering to an end, with little in the sense of control, planning or even semi-coherence to sellotape it all together.
One thing, though, it’s been a fucking great year. Not a single other label out there has come close to matching the kind of stuff we’ve put out in 2014 as far as I am concerned. And alright, that statement might sound delusional or just plain arrogant to you, but music is all about personal taste and I am supposed to think that, am I not? There’s no point starting a label if you aren’t going to release your own favourite music, and if you thought that was already being done then you wouldn’t have the motivation to start in the first place, would you.
There’s a Soundcloud playlist at the bottom of the page if you want to check for yourselves.
People say that time flies, and it does, I suppose, but January 2014 seems like a very long way away indeed. There were normal records to be planned of course, but before we could get into that we had to record and release what turned out to be Meursault’s last album: The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.
That was my first real brush with crowd-funding, and I think it went really well. Getting people to vote on the songs worked nicely, and we ended up with a record which had broken even before it was even released. It made me wonder rather seriously about why we can’t manage this the rest of the time, but I suppose the project itself had a few uniquely suitable aspects which can’t really be reproduced.
It was financially successful of course, but oddly enough we couldn’t get anyone to fucking review the thing, despite Meursault being one of our most widely-covered bands for every one of their other releases. Maybe it was because it was mostly covers, maybe because it was crowd-funded, or maybe because it was released (and hence old news) almost before we even knew ourselves what kind of album it was going to be, but honestly it made the music press look particularly stupid in my eyes.
It’s one thing when magazines decide to only review this or that kind of release, but the internet was supposed to free us from that kind of pointless nonsense, and yet all the big online magazines seem to be drifting into mimicking the established press, and I really don’t think that is either a good thing, or in any way necessary, really.
Anyhow, as badly as we’ve fared with the press this year you do find yourself developing a rather acute appreciated of the people who have actually supported you. As well as some of the online and print publications who have continued to be so supportive, we’ve had amazing results with the radio this year too.
Farewell, Bastard Mountain was the first sign that things might not be so predictable in terms of what appealed to radio shows. 6Music put five minute instrumental drone track Drone Armatrading on heavy rotation, and Palisade (a gorgeous track, but downbeat as fuck and loooong) did really well too.
These radio results finally cemented in my head the idea what we really have to stop second-guessing what radio will actually want and just send them our favourite stuff. Received wisdom is that you’re supposed to only really send them three-minute pop songs with hummable riffs and an obvious chorus, but this year has pretty much shown that to be utter bollocks so from now on that approach is going out the window. We’ll put out the songs we think best represent why we love an album, and balls if they’re the sensible choice or not.
Considering our struggles with press recently, I have to confess I was a little nervous about releasing the Virgin of the Birds album Winter Seeds in May. Given Jon lives in Seattle, which makes it impossible to try and build grassroots support never mind persuade the jittery hipsters of the internet to write about the album, I thought it could be really heavy going but actually the response was fantastic. We got some great reviews, and Charlie Ashcroft and Dani Charlton at Amazing Radio got right behind the record too, so the whole thing felt like it went really well.
Here at Song, by Toad Records we have something of a knack for releasing albums by bands who subsequently either cease to exist or just go so quiet that they might as well have ceased to exist, which is a surefire way to complete financial ruin. We have such a nose for that kind of project that it even works with festivals too. Our third Split 12″ was released in June, at a time designed to coincide with the Insider Festival, where the record itself was actually recorded the previous year. Except there was no Insider Festival this year.
Still, despite it ending up looking slightly orphaned, it is still a gorgeous record with some wonderfully odd moments, and actually served as a perfect precursor to to the David Thomas Broughton and Jonnie Common albums we released later in the year. That wasn’t particularly the plan when we set out our release schedule, but it did work out rather nicely in the end.
There was a brief interruption to the planned schedule with the second Pale Imitation Festival in August. It went fantastically again, although I have to question my wisdom in starting the damn thing. The idea was to fight back at the fact that the Edinburgh Festival more or less forces us to cease operations during August because we have no chance of being heard over the din, but the Pale Imitation Festival is such hard work that it actually ends up being more disruptive than just having to take a month off so, er… yes, I am a fool. What of it?
And far from having August off, actually during all the Pale Imitation stuff I ended having to work in all the press for Sliding the Same Way, the collaborative album by David Thomas Broughton and the Juice Vocal Ensemble. A bit like Bastard Mountain, this is another semi-improvised record which is primarily in the ‘alt-folk’ bracket I suppose but which is so tinged with oddness that the genre becomes irrelevant, it’s the personality of the album which dominates.
Jonnie Common’s Trapped in Amber is similar, in that sense. Nominally it is experimental electronic pop, I suppose, but his personality is so stamped all over the album that it is this which becomes its defining characteristic.
It’s part of the frustration of being a small label with pretty limited resources I suppose, but with both of these last two records I felt that I didn’t really do a good enough job with the PR. I contacted all the right people of course, and I did it in plenty of time, but given the coverage both artists have had in the past and the quality of the records in question I feel like I should have got them way more coverage than I did.
In both cases the reception was great, and the radio play more than compensated for a lack of written press – and radio listeners actually buy records too, whereas I have never seen any link between sales and written reviews – but I can’t help but feel this is something I seriously need to look at next year because I don’t think the label is really cutting the mustard in that sense at the moment. Of course it doesn’t help when all the supposedly alternative publications are wasting both their and our time covering mainstream pop acts, but we still need to improve, I think.
And so finally, here we are, more or less at the end of the year, with just time for one last release: the Couch King EP by the erratic, prolific, unpredictable and occasionally inspired Passion Pusher. He may be all over the place at times, but there is some great stuff in amongst the madness and I really hope he can harness it in the future, because I love some of the stuff he does.
Couch King was also our first tape release, which I am hoping will be significant. Mrs. Toad and I moved in May, to a house with a small warehouse on the grounds, and in the New Year we are going to turn it into an informal recording studio. That will hopefully allow us to do more Split 12″s and Toad Sessions, and to encourage more projects like Farewell, Bastard Mountain and The Organ Grinder’s Monkey – loose, creative projects which are nevertheless quite intense, but hugely exciting and rewarding to be involved with.
I’m already working on a number of really exciting releases for next year, and you’ll all be getting a Christmas present on the 25th which will introduce you to some of our new projects, but for now I think I am going to take it a bit easy and relax for a few days. I’ll do my end of year album list, and put my feet up with Mrs. Toad, who quite bafflingly continues to encourage all this.
It’s been an incredible year, and I am both really proud of what our existing comrades have achieved, and proud of the people who liked what we were doing enough to want to join us. Song, by Toad Records represents an amazing group of really interesting, creative people and I think next year I want to do more to emphasise that, just amongst ourselves as much as anything else. I might not be all that great at actually running the label all the time, but in being a part of it you are associating yourself with some properly amazing people.
And when we move back into our now-refurbished living room later this week I might just put on our records from this year one after another, drink too much gin, and reflect that yes, the world really is wrong about music.More: bastard mountain, david thomas broughton, jonnie common, meursault, pale imitation festival, passion pusher, siobhan wilson, Song by Toad Records, sparrow and the workshop, virgin of the birds