A few hours before TOY’s gig at the tiny Shacklewell Arms, something of a warm-up for the full tour they have coming up on the autumn, the band announced details of their forthcoming third album, Clear Shot. Curiously, they didn’t bother to plug the new record during their show, but then TOY have never been a band who spend much time on between-song patter; and they let their new material speak for itself, playing nine of Clear Shot’s ten tracks.
The new record seems set to show a greater step-change from second album Join the Dots than that album did from TOY’s debut. Those two albums were built largely on repetitive grooves that built in intensity, sometimes unwinding into dreamier passages, and which saw them tagged with the same Krautrock and psychedelia labels that have been stuck to so many other bands over the past few years – though arguably they are more justified labels in this case then they have been in others. But the tracks from Clear Shot see TOY loosen themselves from the sense of control that is bound up with motorik rhythms and endless, driving riffs.
As tends to be inevitable when new material is showcased, the set takes a little while to find its feet. The first few songs are among the most unfamiliar-sounding of the Clear Shot tracks. The chord changes and shifts in tone come more rapidly then we’re used to when listening to TOY play, some of the rhythms are looser, and guitarist Dominic O’Dair is more prone to taking time out for a bona fide solo. It’s likely that these tracks will sound great on record after a few listens, but they’re not the easiest way into the gig.
After the slow start, the familiar title track from Join the Dots intervenes midway through the set, and it’s a superb performance that wins over any members of the crowd who remain disengaged, while also acting as a bridge that shows the similarities between Join the Dots and Clear Shot. In several of the new songs that follow, it becomes clear that there has in fact been an evolution from one record to the next rather than a sharp shift in styles.
Among them is Fast Silver, the track they premiered with the announcement of Clear Spot. The recording of this song broods for a while as it settles into a noir groove that gives way to softer interludes. Live, it’s a more powerful proposition; the riff and rhythm comes out of the shadows and illuminates TOY’s new direction to great effect, as it builds to a burst of intensity. The new album’s title track is similarly intense, and shows that some of the new material suits the band’s live aesthetic well.
We’ll have to wait for the release of Clear Shot to truly get a handle on where TOY is going as a band. But for now, we can confidently say that no matter how well the new album holds up they are getting even better as a live band, becoming technically more accomplished and making braver decisions about how they embellish their songs. A free gig at an intimate venue is a nice way of introducing fans to new material, but If anything they are constrained by the small stage of the Shacklewell Arms; this is bigger sound not in volume or vastness, but in its ambition.