Just a year since their impressive debut and TOY are already returning with their second album. Sometimes there’s a perceptible dip in quality on second albums, but TOY suffer no such problems. If anything, they’re more assured and building on their already solid foundations.
Opening an album with a seven-minute instrumental exploration (Conductor) is a pretty bold move (unless you happen to be in the business of writing nothing but lengthy exploratory instrumentals), but TOY seem to be comfortable with it. This is a band who are happy to wear their influences on their sleeves and are content to tap in to the resources of krautrock, prog and off-centre rock at their disposal. If occasionally they lean a bit too heavily on those influences rather than seeking to expand on their template, that can be ignored, primarily because these songs pay homage with such grace that it’s not a really significant criticism. Conductor might not be archetypal TOY, but it establishes the mood of the album perfectly. Slightly hazy, cosmic, and wide eyed, it boldly goes where others have been before, whilst understanding that part of the fun is exploring the cosmos.
The title track is a motorik behemoth that bubbles and seethes with an undeniable urgency. Reveling in the sonic chaos that a guitar can bring when liberated by an array of effects pedals, it embraces noise and looks to the stars before roaring off into the heavens on a mission destined to end in a glorious fireball. That it sounds like Hawkwind thundering down an autobahn astride a silver machine might betray TOY’s inspiration, but who cares when it sounds this good. The album closes with the nine-minute Fall Out Of Love, a kind of incessant, woozy shoe gaze anthem. It owes a heavy debt to My Bloody Valentine’s in terms of guitar sound, being as it is rather blurred and out of focus, yet it’s utterly immersive. That the final few minutes emulate the unrelenting hypnotic stomp of Yo La Tengo’s Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind is nothing but a good thing.
It’s not all sprawling songs though, and TOY make sure that there’s enough soft focus pop seeping through the album’s shorter numbers to keep things ticking over nicely. As We Turn, for example, is quite light, floating along on with a strange motown meets Neu vibe. To The Death Unknown meanwhile keeps things basic and seems insistent that less is more. Recycling a main chord sequence and adding different ranges of emotions to it pays dividends, with only the emotionally detached vocals of Tom Dougall retaining an unwavering calm (or is it disinterest?).
Endlessly, meanwhile, hints at early Dinosaur Jr and possesses the most glorious vocal payoff on the album. Dreamy doesn’t quite cover it, but it’s easy to get lost in the backing vocals and smart guitar lines. And Too Far Gone To Know possesses the forceful icy presence of a glacier on the move. As you might expect, Frozen Atmosphere is along similar lines, if slightly more light headed.
Join The Dots is a very good album, derivative maybe, but much more than the sum of its parts. If TOY allow themselves more time for album number three, they could well be on the verge of great things.