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Happy In The Hollow Luke Turner , January 24th, 2019 15:35

After a few years in the outer reaches, Toy are back on fine cosmic form

Toy’s emergence into The Quietus’ consciousness nearly a decade ago was all you could ask for from a guitar group: a blistering live show that wiped the floor with all-comers, incredibly young with a magnificent sharp aesthetic and a killer debut single in the shape of ‘Left Myself Behind’. They continued to triumph live, gamely even allowing Wire to support them at a gig we ran at the Lexington, and released a solid self-titled debut album in 2012. This we described thus: “Toy are unashamedly a pop band, with songs that are mostly succinct and driven by hooks and melody, but with a visceral punch few of their peers can match.”

Unfortunately for a long time thereafter Toy seemed to struggle to match the high standards they’d set themselves. Gigs seemed to lose some of their initial venom, settling down into a pleasant enough but occasionally rather mushy shoegazing psychedelia. In 2013, second album Join The Dots emerged perhaps too hard on the heels of its predecessor to see much progression, and the band started to acquire the sort of appearance that suggested they were embracing some of the lifestyle accoutrements of being psychedelic heads a little too enthusiastically. A further album, Clear Shot, followed, and was anything but.

It’s pleasing and quite startling, then, to hear Toy back sounding like the last eight years of frustrating decline was an aberration, or trick of the light. Now signed to the Tough Love label, their third album is an at times exhilarating rediscovery of the psychedelic exploratory spirit that made them so exciting in the first place.

Perhaps much of the success is down to the fact that Toy seem to be having fun again. They’ve apparently rediscovered that they can write terrific pop songs which, like a glimpse of a sunlit lake though a gap in the forest’s edge, are at their best when they’re surrounded by psychedelic racket, rather than being immersed in it. ‘Last Warmth Of The Day’ does this perfectly, a simple guitar line (oddly reminiscent of Urge Overkill’s ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’) shines forth from a languid but actually quite menacing backing. ‘Energy’ is especially good, fast and furious as a whitey where your thumbs have gone weird and you need to be helped to the nearest chair. If Toy could occasionally lapse into over-indulgence, here they snap it tight at just over four minutes. If anything, 'Mechanism' (in which all sorts of scything metallic noise sits in perfect balance with a synth melody that pulses all joyous and carefree) could have been allowed to stretch its limbs for a little longer.

Similarly, where their debt to krautrock seemed to become a trap (a problem that faces a lot of groups who’ve been influenced by a genre that had forward-movement as its founding principle), Happy On The Hollow is made from a far broader palette. There’s folk here, trippy English pastoralism, the robotic-drum-machine-meets-stoned-monks lo-fi of ‘Strangulation Day’, cosmic randiness in ‘Mistake A Stranger’, playful electronically gurgles on ‘Jolt Awake’, and quite a lot of goth. Above all, it’s the melodies that stand out, whether in the wonderfully wacked-out refrains of ’You Make Me Forget Myself’ or the pacy ripples of ‘Sequence One’, all delivered with an insouciance that’s rather satisfying in these times.

One imagines that much of the past decade – skint, perplexed and doggedly following their own trip – must have been quite a struggle. Thank heavens then that they’ve persevered, for as they reach their thirties Toy seem finally to be hitting their stride and look set to find further treasures on the other side.