Toehider – To Hide Her – 4.5/5
Toehider are undeniably an eccentric bunch, taking the prog rock format and emerging with this compilation of comical tracks. Their most recent work was a collection of covers from underrated cartoons. They wanted to avoid the 'second album slump' by starting their recording career with 12 EPs in 12 months; more than 240mins of material in their first year. They did a humourous track all about how they 'do it for metal.' In fact they use humour throughout much of their work; it could almost be considered some weird hybrid between Queen and Tenacious D, taking pop hooks, rocking riffs, eclectic acoustic guitar, and swirling them all together to create a compilation so diverse you could have sworn it wasn't the same band.
Their eccentricity perhaps not all that surprising when you consider Queen was such an influence on them, and oddly, in a sense it does show. Take their 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' You've probably heard it so many times you know all the words, but what genre would you call it? When they're doing their opening, right before he sings 'don't stop me now' it's rather poppish isn't it? The 'I'm just a poor boy' segment is essentially a choir of three, more theatrical than anything rock. Understand then that when I refer to Toehider as a prog rock band, I don't mean they always play progressive rock, merely that if you added all the metallic elements, indie lines and pop passages, then averaged them all out, prog rock is about where we'd end up. The absolutely last thing I want you to expect is for these guys to sit still and play one genre for an entire album.
In fact, in break from my usual contempt at breaking down the different tracks, allow me to take you on a brief walk through this release. Opening with a pop ballad, we swiftly move on to a prog rock tune, pop rock, then it's on through to folk rock, jazz rock, Ozzy-era Sabbath-influenced rock, pop punk, indie rock; there's acoustic guitars, thick groovy riffs, gentle melodies, xylophone solos – the songs don't blend the different styles, they're simply distinct enough to stand alone within the rest of the package. Mixed in with the gentle humour are sombre notes, questioning living up to expectations and the turmoil after the death of a loved one. He balances the serious with the silly and prevents things from dragging on for too long; neither becoming little more than a joke or too bogged down with weighty topics, which whilst an unconventional approach, in this instance oddly works.
Genre wise he just can't sit still. I almost want to call his appreciation for so many styles uncanny but it never feels as though he spent the time studying or learning each approach. Each line and melody comes to him so fluidly that you never doubt he just has an immense ear for what particular tone a track requires. After hearing how capable musicians they are, so much of their work feels as though they're playing beneath their abilities but there's simply no trace of the thought that they should show off, just as content performing a basic acoustic arpeggio as they are shredding out a face-melting solo. The drummer coming off the back of 'Soilwork' clearly knows his way around the drum kit and the bassist proves she's never a slouch, but the real star is the immensely versatile vocal work, from the Queen-like chorals, the powerful soprano lines, all the way down to the gentle folk lines and everywhere in between, always letting his natural accent emerge and give him a flavour that only furthers to gloriously distinguish their work.
There are, however a few flaws in his masterful debut. With such a wide variety of styles, it loses a sense of coherency; it feels less an album as much as a collection of work, and given his knack for choosing a style suitable at each point it seems a shame that he hasn't picked an overarching concept or tale, encompassing both the heavy topics and his humourous side. On similar lines, the fact that there is so much to choose from will cause listeners to gravitate to some songs over others; the slow and atmospheric finale the first to feel the wrath of the skip button, whilst I've lost count of the number of times 'Everybody Knows Amy' (so named after their bassist) has been spun. They'll make you laugh and make you cry, but for all their indecision over which genre to play, they're certainly never boring.
Highlights: Daddy Issues, There's a Ghost in the Lake, Everybody Knows Amy, Fireside