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Toy City Releases Debut Album

I love these kind of albums. Toy City’s self-titled debut is a happy accident of sorts, a project dictated by circumstance, yet full of vibrant songwriting and interpretations of other material. It takes chances while still conforming to listener’s expectations. That’s no small thing. It’s all the more impressive when you find out that the two men responsible for the playing and writing, Paul Burke and Steve Shaheen, aren’t even songwriters and musicians first and foremost. The filmmaker and sculptor, respectively, take to the form, however, like proverbial ducks to water. The seven originals they’ve penned for the debut are natural, never cookie-cutter or premeditated, and the two covers accompanying the collection fit in perfectly with the album’s overall scheme.

Their cover of The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” illustrates that. They’ve taken a musical showcase number and revamped it as loose alternative rock. Balancing a faithful rendition of this tune whilst transforming it to suit their purposes points to the wealth of talent underlying the release as a whole. The duo is planning US dates in support of this release and it’s a no-brainer, to me, that this opener should be a prominent part of the set list. The guitar work is especially effective and it’s impressive how Burke and Shaheen handle multi-instruments in their DIY effort while still producing a full and robust band sound.

The second cut “Dinosaur” is an intensely personal statement. Getting older is no fun for anyone, really, and we often find ourselves outpaced by time’s inexorable march. “Dinosaur” addresses that with intelligence and a bracing musical arrangement. It has a completeness, the marks of a finished product, missing from the album opener. The guitar playing, in particular, is especially on point. “Mountains” chugs ahead with consistent energy that carries listeners away. Fleshing it out with sparkling piano fills is a shrewd move that gives the track added musical weight.

“Glue-All” adopts a similar pace. It’s otherwise a bit of an outlier on this album that reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s famed musings on not having a steak entitled “T-Bone”. The lyrics are culled from a Elmer’s Glue bottle label. The vocals, however, make them sound like a life or death matter and the tumultuous yet very musical arrangement lends them added impetus. The alternative rock leanings of the album are further underlined by the song “Your Story” and its gradual musical rise, the unceasing push ahead provided by the arrangement, gives it the needed urgency.

Toy City looks to the printed page for the lyrics to “Figure 5”. They call upon the works of famed American poet William Carlos Williams for the words and marry them to a rolling guitar focused arrangement that held my attention from beginning to end. There’s a lot of dynamics at work here for listeners to sink their teeth into. The album’s penultimate track “Margherita Regina” strikes a melancholy mood with some interesting bass woven into the arrangement. I especially love the melodies carried off by the guitar.

Burke and Shaheen end Toy City’s debut with a memorable cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. They adhere to the spirit of the original, but nevertheless shape the song in their own image. The guitar is on the same page as its predecessors but takes a slightly different approach to achieve the same ends. It’s a dramatic conclusion to one of 2023’s most interesting releases.

Mindy McCall



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