Album Review: toe, “Hear You”

toeToe Hear You
(Topshelf Records – July 24, 2015)
(Post-Rock, Math-Rock, Experimental)
Review by Rob Bockman


Early on in life, we used to fill squares of graph paper in to make blocky shapes when you’d squint. Japanese experimental outfit toe’s latest, Hear You, evokes these analog pixels, creating something grand and fuzzy out of obsessive patterns and rigid geometry.

There’s always been something mathematical in toe, with the slightly frenzied percussion and playful time signatures, and that promise reaches full theory in tracks like “Because I Hear You,” which pilfers the individualized schematic patterns of jazz and puts them to use to create a bold whole. It’s harmony through intentional fracturing, but you have to break the ceramics to make the mosaic. Indeed, there’s something both artistic and very architectural about toe’s music, something as bounded in mathematics as music, and Hear You creates a lush but precise atmosphere from that same creative spirit. 

There’s nothing here that overstays its welcome, even with the frequently repeating musical phrases. Instead, the album breathes, building in defined and recursive waves. The albums’ concept is front-loaded, coming directly as a one-two punch in “Premonition (Beginning of a Desert of Human)” and “Desert of Human,” two tracks that, aside from a minor tonal shift, could be one. The fact that they’re not—instead, divided into an overture and follow-up—embodies the drive towards deliberate recreation that governs toe, that almost obsessive hunger for evolution. The weird, Morricone-esque vibe of the “Desert” pairing, which marries repetitive acoustic to keening beeps like distant birdcalls, starts the record off with a strangely inert note counteracted by the remainder. There’s something very vibrant in the album, especially in tracks like “My Little Wish,” a standout that sounds like minor-key Real Estate, equidistant from both “bubbly” and “plodding.” The traditionalist “Commit Ballad,” featuring lyrics from alt-pop icon Chara, has a smokiness missing from the rest of the album, merging the methodical box-patterns of toe with a lounginess that exalts the track. Chara, like mononymous artists before her, from Nico to Bjork, has a sort of husky drone to her voice that melds nicely with toe’s exacting and playful structures. Throughout the album, there’s a similar merging of styles—from the light hip-hop of “Time Goes” to the jangle-pop cheerleading of “G.O.O.D.L.U.C.K.”—that suggests that while toe is most comfortable with instrumentals, they’re more than happy to bring in ringers when necessary.

Tracks to watch: “Commit Ballad,” “G.O.O.D.L.U.C.K.,” “The World According To,” “Because I Hear You”

Tracks to skip: “Time Goes,” “Song Silly”


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