Brighton-formed TOY have amassed a strong cult following since their 2012 eponymous debut. Whilst claims in some quarters of being the best alternative rock band in the country might seem optimistic, their excellent second album Join The Dots in 2013 saw glimpses of how they could achieve such stature in the future. A collaboration exploring world psych with Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes last year under the Sexwitch moniker added further weight to their portfolio and, let’s say, ambitions of becoming the best.
Third album Clear Shot, however, marks for a noticeable change in direction; they’ve been influenced by all sorts this time around. Genesis P-Orridge took a trip to Benin seeking out the origins of voodoo and that provides perhaps the strangest contribution to the band’s recent thinking, along with artist Salvadore Dali, Alfred Hitchcock films, Ennio Morricone’s famed Western soundtracks and the origins and development of both folk music and poetic myth. With other influences naming The Wicker Man soundtrack, acid house and The Incredible String Band, it’s fair to say that this isn’t your usual concoction of inspiring elements. This in turn makes their claim about being clear of the direction they wanted to take with the album rather baffling, because anyone in their right mind will already be wondering how the hell such diverse influences lead to a clear path as opposed to one in a fog drenched forest in the middle of the night with turnings every few yards and no navigational equipment at hand.
Initially mapped out during time spent at band members’ homes in New Cross and Walthamstow, Clear Shot was recorded in just 12 days at Eve Studios in Stockport under the guidance of producer David Wrench, before Chris Coady (Beach House) performed further mixing in Los Angeles.
Lead single Fast Silver gave a first glimpse of the band’s new guise. It’s a slow, often turgid psychedelic plod that occasionally sounds interesting but staccato organ shocks then create a soundscape more suitable to an episode of The Addams Family than an alternative rock record. These sections aside, it’s an intriguing if strange choice for a single, but at over six minutes it can become a drag. Second single I’m Still Believing is more of an obvious single: a shorter, three minute up-tempo break-up song, it’s one of the band’s best ever efforts at a short, sharp poppier track with a catchy chorus swathed in swirly synths.
The overall impression of the album is contrary to the claims that it’s their most cohesive effort, though, and with so many influences affecting the output it’s no surprise. Jungle Games switches from chugging verses blessed with spooky sounding synth melody to a dreamy chorus that recalls late 1960’s psych like early Syd Barrett driven Pink Floyd. Another Dimension plays out like a lost Madchester effort for its choruses before a swooning, floaty chorus that befits the mellow moods created by moderate recreational drug use, lyrics asking if you’re ready for another dimension, whilst Clouds That Cover The Sun continues the dreamy psychedelic haze without really going anywhere of note.
Album opener and title track Clear Shot, however, is a cracker. From its warped, spiky guitar intro through mesmerising verses it meanders its way to a classic TOY wig-out finale, underpinned by a pulsating rhythm, icy guitar interjections and repetitive synth melodies; in short, it’s everything you want from a TOY number. Perhaps best of all is the hypnotic Dream Orchestrator. The band’s favoured motorik beat makes a welcome return, the track twisting and turning before a hypnotic chorus furnished with stunning synths and racing guitars take hold, the instrumental lead out this time being so dramatically enthralling you don’t want it to end.
So, Clear Shot is somewhat of a mixed bag, then. No longer are TOY primarily influenced by motorik driven shoegaze with a psychedelic twist, but they’re channelling the dreamier side of the original psychedelic era whilst admiring fine art and literature and investigating mystery amongst other things. Apart from the more renowned styles TOY have become synonymous with that adorn a handful of cuts, the remainder may prove a difficult listen in places for those fans of their earlier work. It’s the sound of a band dabbling in other areas whilst still maintaining something of their roots, and as long as they don’t stray too far from the path that they have clearly mastered then they’re a band worth sticking with as they make their sonic explorations.