Crate-Digging: Friendo – Cold Toads

Throughout August, Crate-Digging will be focusing on recordings that have been given a cassette release.

(Bart Records, 2009)

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/album=49428236/size=venti/bgcol=FFFFFF/linkcol=4285BB/

This lean, post-pop-punk three-piece features Mark Robinson on guitar, Bridgette Cross on bass, and Phil Krauth on drums…

Wait a minute. This isn’t Unrest! How dare you, sir, hand me this unmarked cassette and promise me the great unreleased Unrest record – Team BPM has nothing to do with this. You should be ashamed of yourself. I’m blocking your number from my phone, flagging your emails as junk, un-friending you on Facebook. I’m in shock, really. Pure shock at your arrogance.

OK, everybody, sorry I was fooled. This is not a lost Unrest tape. It’s still got a pretty good pedigree though, one I’m eager to share with you now that I know about it. Remember the experimental pop band Women? Of course you do, you read this column. Well check it out – singer/guitarist Michael Wallace was the drummer in Women! I know, right? Pretty cool. It’s good to see that someone’s got something going in the wake of that band’s unfortunate dissolution. (Although the Cold Toads cassette originally came out in 2009, before the split.) There was just too much talent there for it to go to waste. I can’t wait to hear what the other band members are up too. I also see that the Women alum remain stubbornly unable to properly name their bands. Just sayin’.

The Unrest comparisons aren’t unreasonable, as both they and Friendo are a guitar/bass/drums trio, and both are co-ed. Henry and Nicole join Michael – I’m not sure who plays what. No matter. Friendo, from Calgary, continues in the DC band’s idiom of nimble guitar and bass interplay over steady rock beats. But they also retain their former band’s penchant for the experimental side of guitar composition, skewering time signatures and utilizing dissonance to great effect, much like your, my, and probably their heroes Sonic Youth. Opener “Counter/Time” does it all, bouncing nimbly along deliberate guitar picking and a bass countermelody, over which Wallace sing/speaks, something that works out just fine for him. It bursts at the midpoint and closes on excellently strummed dissonant and distorted guitar, while the bass stays on one chord until the close. Very Women-esque, which is exactly what you should expect.

Cold Toads really sounds like a bunch of semi-experimental bands from track to track, kind of a time capsule of mid-1990s college rock, to whose participants Women were equally indebted, and yet were able to carve a unique enough niche that I’m able to point to them specifically as a reference. And really Women is the only talking point for tape closer “Young Fellows,” in that it tiptoes along on a spindly guitar line for two-thirds of the song, then it changes up as the band crashes in on strummed chords, a faster rhythm, and a completely different progression. It’s like two songs digitally sandwiched together within a single track. I’ve mentioned Sonic Youth here too already, and you can picture “Hailey Omen” or “New Sibley” winding up on Experimental Jet Set or Washing Machine. Speaking of the latter, “Callers” sounds remarkably like Friendo’s attempt at a “Little Trouble Girl” moment, and it works, even over five minutes and indecipherable vocals (most of which are, on the album, and that’s probably a good thing as the ones that peek through aren’t that great). “Oversees” sounds like a lost tune from Imperial Teen’s What Is Not to Love. “Liner” has a lethargic rumble that recalls June of 44. And of course there’s the Unrest influence.

I’m not one for doing the whole comparative review thing where I say this one band sounds like this other band blah blah blah, but I’ve done it here and I kind of apologize. And yet I don’t, because Friendo really grasps at their influences and turns them into something fun and entertaining, complex yet clear. I just feel a little lazy doing it, I guess. Even though there may be repercussions. We’ll just have to see how Matt D., Critical Masses’ resident Anton Chigurrh, responds to all this – I can see him grabbing his air-gun-thingee, heading out the door, and plugging my address into his GPS. Ah well, it was a good run.

RIYL: Women, Sonic Youth, Unrest

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