The debut album from Toy City is driven by a sense of urgency and uncertainty, with catchy melodies subverted by dark introspection. The soaring guitars and propulsive drums of “Dinosaur,” the LP’s second song, create a backdrop for Paul Burke’s lyrics questioning the feeling of irrelevance as one moves through adulthood.
“‘Dinosaur’ was the first song written on the album,” Burke says. “The first scratch recording of the song is from 12 years ago. This is a song about the panic of approaching middle age, the feeling of irrelevance, and the fear of living a life that is not authentic. At the time, I was attempting to gather together the friends and musicians I had played with in Boston, only to find them too caught up in their lives to be able to commit to playing and writing new music. All the lyrics are direct references to these friends, our shared experiences as a band, and their current lives.
“One particular lyric from the third verse, ‘The Real World knocking on the door’ is a direct reference to Steve Shaheen [the co-writer for all Toy City songs]. When we lived together in Boston in the ’90s, he was, in fact, a finalist to be on MTV’s Real World: Boston. He didn’t make that final cut, but as a consolation prize, several of our songs were played on one of the episodes.”
The remainder of the album also presents a range of sonic and lyric experimentation, with Shaheen employing his bass as a multi-instrumental tool shaped by an array of effects, sometimes layering in a dozen or more tracks that feel like undefinable hybrids of guitar, synth, horn, and strings. The album contains two uncommon visions of common covers (The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”), a William Carlos William poem set to music (“Figure 5”), the recitation of Elmer’s Glue instructions (“Glue-All”), and a repurposing of Neorealist Italian film titles (“Bicycle Thief”). Their remote and off-the-cuff process comes through in Burke and Shaheen’s song-crafting, resulting in a work that feels decidedly fresh, unmanicured, and authentic.
Even as Toy City is releasing this first record, things are only just beginning for the band, with plans already in the works for North American tour dates, as well as a second LP to be recorded live in a studio in upstate NY.
Photo courtesy of Toy City