Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pitstop: Toebow

photo by Dave Herr
Brooklyn based art pop quintet Toebow essentially exist at a nexus point of my musical interests. Originally consisting of former members of Vermont experimental dream pop collective BOBBY in singer/guitarist Martin Zimmermann and singer/keyboardist Maia Friedman before her departure to focus on her other project Uni Ika Ai, Toebow occupy a similar though not congruent space of communal music making that exists largely on its own merits. The band have spent the better part of five years refining their incredibly texture based form of their self-described "cartoon rock" and establishing an identity entirely separate from their self-mythologizing former band. With songs like "The Return of Toebow", Toebow aren't averse to a little self-mythology however where Bobby used it as method to obscure and create a sense of something bigger than the rotating cast of musicians that formed the Tom Greenberg led collective, Toebow play at it with a tongue-in-cheek nature that definitely seems like a sly wink to those astute enough to know the band's history.

Spirit Mane, the band's debut EP, finds the band in peak form after years of playing together. It's an album that's been forged through their own internal sense of community as well as their live exploits and short but sweet, the four song EP is a perfect encapsulation of the various influences and sounds the band has access to without it seeming like a jarring jukebox selection of styles. Awash in psychedelic guitar riffs, synth tones, and four (occasionally five) part harmonies - Spirit Mane saunters through a diverse collection of sounds. From the technicolor speckled prog rock of album opener "I'll Be Gone" to the harmony laden tribal math folk of the EP's eponymous "Spirit Mane", Toebow manages to wrangle all of the varying shades of psychedelia into a cohesive and surprisingly accessible part of their sonic identity as they effortlessly weave elements of vibrant colored psych rock, pop, and folk with far more softer touches of the electronic than the band's earlier drum-pad/sample days. Though vocal duties often shifts between Zimmerman, guitarist Nate Ulsh, and the departed Friedman (who still guests on much of the EP), the repetitive mantra-like quality of the lyrics give a sense (especially in the pulsing, world music recalling "Belong") that Toebow's treat vocals as another brush by which to paint with. That's not to say there's no thought put into lyrical content - there is. But Toebow introduces lyrical narratives quickly with the first one or two lines and allow the arrangements to color them: the interplay between lyrics and arrangement interlocking to provide the full breadth of Toebow's narrative vision.

Spirit Mane is an artful balance of style and influence with original thought as well as lush arrangements with rhythmic density. There's a multitude of moving parts in any one Toebow song but the band never let their songs appear overstuffed - providing a host of layers without hindering an ease of movement. Toebow's song's are compositionally dense without sounding so and that's a feat in and of itself honed by years of familiarity. Spirit Mane, though a cohesive debut, essentially acts as a appetizer - an actual musical document for fans and new listeners alike unable to catch the band's spellbinding live set that provides a brief but well-rounded view of what the band is about.

Toebow's debut EP Spirit Mane is out now and you can snag it from the band's Bandcamp. The band are also in the midst of a residency at Three's Brewing and the final night of their residency occurs on May 15th. If you're in Brooklyn make sure to catch them with Home Body and Fieldings.

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