EP Review: Toe – Our Latest Number

Toe Our Latest Number EP cover

To me, Toe are about as close as you can come to a perfect band. They are incredibly talented musicians who create great compositions that appeal to just about everyone. It’s never a bad time to listen to Toe, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. I have a funny anecdote that I shared in my Masaki Hanakata review, which involved me introducing Toe to American teenage girls at a Summer Camp I worked at, resulting in them all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe!” until I played some of Toe’s music through tinny speakers at the campfire.

Their new EP, Our Latest Number picks up where Hear You (2015) left off. In fact, I feel that the new song “Etude of Solitude” could complete a trilogy started with the 2015 tracks “Premonition” and “A Desert of Human”, following similar sounding guitar lines. “Etude…” is my favourite track of this EP, featuring split tapped poly-rhythms, sparing yet effective use of vibraphone, splendid drumming, and possibly even sitar?

We hear light, airy songs that sound simple, but are deceptively complex. The songs are very repetitive, looping around groovy motifs that gradually evolve. Precise poly-rhythms of noodly guitars sit above concise, dry drumming, loaded with explosive energy, yet exuding chilled out vibes.

Most Toe tracks are instrumental, and when they feature vocals the singing is usually diverse and unpredictable. Hear You had male and female vocals, stunning harmonies and even rapping. By comparison, the two songs featuring singing on this EP are relatively straightforward and calm.

Thanos would love this EP because it feels so perfectly balanced. The playing is busy, but the musicians know where to leave space. The music sounds so clean and articulate due to the fact that there are very little sound effects added to the playing . Most post-rock music is saturated in distortion, reverb, delay etc… so these songs sound fresh by comparison.

That is not to say there are no effects or synthetic sounds utilised. “F_A_R” has a weird sliding sound – almost like a robotic heartbeat – at the start of the track. I first noticed it as I was walking to work a few days ago, and I thought the sound was my headphone cord rubbing against my clothes. The track continues to employ interesting sounds from synths and sequencers to add texture.

It says something about the quality of the music when you love a band so much without knowing much about them. I have no idea what they sing about on their songs that contain singing. It’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to over social media, seeing as most content I find is written in Japanese. I can’t understand what their message is, so I simply let the music talk on their behalf.

The only downside of Our Latest Number is that it is too short, last just shy of 20 minutes. And on top of that, some tracks almost feel like rehashed versions of older songs (compare the drumbeat “The Latest Number” against “You Go”, from 2009’s For Long Tomorrow). But my complacency isn’t justified – I just crave more music from this outstanding band!

This is an immaculate EP, in keeping with their previous output. Essential listening for most math-rock and post-rock fans, and I’m sure just as appealing to anyone who doesn’t usually listen to instrumental music. Just press play, and bask in the music’s genius and clarity.

Toe links:

Upcoming US tour dates:

  • September 07, 2018 – Washington, DC, US @ Black Cat
  • September 08, 2018 – Brooklyn, NY, US @ Warsaw
  • September 09, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, US @ Union Transfer
  • September 10, 2018 – Allston, MA, US @ Brighton Music Hall
  • September 12, 2018 – Toronto, ON, Canada @ Virgin Mobile Mod Club
  • September 13, 2018 – Chicago, IL, US @ Thalia Hall
  • September 14, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN, US @ Fine Line Music Cafe
  • September 17, 2018 – Seattle, WA, US @ The Crocodile
  • September 18, 2018 – Vancouver, BC, Canada @ The Imperial
  • September 19, 2018 – Portland, OR, US @ Wonder Ballroom
  • September 20, 2018 – San Francisco, CA, US @ Great American Music Hall
  • September 21, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, US @ Regent Theater

Joseph James

Album Review: Toe – Hear You

Toe Hear You cover

It has been a great year for post-rock. Wellington has recently been visited by some greats like This Will Destroy You, sleepmakeswaves and Mogwai. And some brilliant albums have been released by bands from all ends of the spectrum worldwide.

The latest such release is Hear You, the third studio full length from Japanese rockers Toe.

Although I would classify Hear You as post-rock, it isn’t a strictly instrumental album. In fact, many of the songs include singing, like the tracks ‘Commit Ballad’ and ‘Song Silly’. Some songs are softly cooed, some are rapped. There are both male and female singers, making the sound all the more diverse. The singing is also predominantly Japanese, but I think I can identify English in “Song Silly”.

This first half of the album sounds like one big song that slowly evolves. The second half is where things begin to mix up. ‘Time Goes’ actually sound more like rapping than singing, backed by some funky guitar, bass, and organ. The next song, ‘オトトタイミングキミト’ follows up with the hip-hop feel, this time with jazzy piano parts.

The crisp drumming throughout the album is standout. In fact, the busy drumming during breakdown in “A Desert of Human” is probably the best moment on the entire album. At times drummer Kashikura Takashiit hangs back, waiting. But when the time comes his playing is urgent and hurried, adding pace and filling the emptiness in a tasteful way. He plays around the timing with drags and shuffles, and makes the most of space with varied rolls, fills and flourishes. There is a very math-rock approach, adding colour and vibrancy to some otherwise straightforward sounding songs.

Hear You has a clean, cohesive sound that is soothing but engaging. It is predominantly percussion driven, with jangly picking and light strumming from the guitars. That said, even though there is a ongoing sound saturating the album, it is also incredibly experimental and subtly diverse. Take the track ‘G.O.O.D L.U.C.K’, for example. It contains tabla drumming, whining Kanye autotune sounds and cheerleader chanting. And somehow it all works in together. There are so many intricacies and subtle layers that only reveal themselves on repeat listens. It’s a short album – the 11 songs only add up to 40 minutes of material – but it’s a case of quality over quantity.

Hear You may be shortbut it’s so good that you’ll likely find yourself listening to it on repeat anyway.

Joseph James