Song, by Toad – Split 12" Vol. 7 (4 stars)

Song, by Toad – Split 12" Vol. 7

Strong all-Canadian farewell release featuring Dana Gavanski, FOONYAP, LT Leif and Woodpigeon

'How Long Has It Been?', are the first words sung in hushed, sombre tones by Dana Gavanski on Song, By Toad's latest, and probably final, release as a record label. Ten years is the answer; taking stock of that timescale, you can't help but admire what Matthew Young and his team built down in Leith. An extensive back catalogue encompassing idiosyncratic songwriting visions of all kinds; snarling punk, fragile folk, throbbing electronica and more besides.

Vol. 7 features four Canadian artists (Gavanski is joined by Woodpigeon, LT Leif and Foonyap) who each contribute three tracks recorded at Young's Happiness Hotel headquarters. With directions to keep it 'quick and simple', each track is raw and urgent – an earnest outpouring liberated from the burdens of overproduction. Woodpigeon's cuts, in particular, are worth considering in this light; each featuring in more fleshed out form on Mark Andrew Hamilton's Frontperson album from 2018. It's not a case of picking sides, but Vol. 7's version of 'The City Is Mine' is subtler, a gentle thud mimicking a nervous heartbeat throughout, almost as if heard underwater. A distorted guitar line rises from nowhere in 'Postcard From a Posh Man' – invigorating in the way it continues to ominously grow, before dropping out entirely.

Foonyap's more experimental cuts were written quickly, at odds with her usual, more meticulous method of composing. 'Yes/No' is the standout, in which intermittent strings soar, suggesting the desire to, in some way, break free. Gavanski and Leif's offerings are, without exception, wonderful. The former's unfamiliar chord progressions and fragile vocals are the most stripped back Vol. 7 gets – powerful and haunting in their simplicity. The wordless melody of the latter's 'No Birds' is a hypnotic highlight of the release, as Leif navigates her way around a fingerpicked guitar line with reverence for the power of a strong melody. If this is indeed Matthew Young's farewell to Song, by Toad Records, then it's a strong one, a distinguished coda to a marvellous decade.

Out Fri 7 Jun. Listen to LT Leif's 'White Birds' from the release below.

Of the track LT Leif says: 'The birds that inspired the song were spotted some years ago, coincidentally while visiting Mark! They flew overhead: the neighbour's pet pigeons. It struck me how this animal who is so often villainised as filthy, chaotic, and diseased also has a different story: a white pigeon is a dove, a powerful symbol of purity. I suppose "White Bird" is about the shiftiness of value judgements, especially in how they are applied towards women and gender. I was judging myself harshly at the time, feeling stuck in a kind of self-inflicted repression. I was feeling a terrible ache. It's a form of insanity, to try for some kind of purity. We are a mess, and so much of how we are seen or how we define goodness just depends on habit and on circumstance.'