Last year, after an unfathomably long hiatus, legendary Brighton rock band 12 Stone Toddler dusted off the nappy and unveiled their latest incarnation to eager crowds. Celebrating ten years from the release of their stunning debut album, Does It Scare You?, the band wowed us all with a sold-out tour-de-force at Brighton’s Green Door Store. Then they took the show on the road, showcasing at several prominent UK festivals, including Glastonbury, before they quietly slipped once more from view.
To those who were not paying close attention, it might have seemed that the genie had been forced back into the bottle. Aside from a few sporadic social media posts, including a clip of the final day in the studio almost a year ago, Toddler were nowhere to be seen. However, the new songs they’d let out of the bag at the Green Door weren’t going anywhere. The new additions to the band, Robin O’Keeffe on drums and Helen Durden on guitar, had clearly added some youthful energy to the group, as well as appropriately continuing the band’s Spinal Tap-like revolving door policy for these positions. Though, it was the founder members, and songwriting nucleus of Chris Otero and Ben Jones, who had planted worms in our ears that refused to go away.
The new album opens and closes with two of these, recently released as a double A-side single. ‘My Machine’ comes first, setting things up perfectly with clunking mechanical noises, buzzing and tapping, while a showbiz organ careens in the distance. Amongst this clever moment of musique concrete I’m sure I can hear a vacuum cleaner, hoovering up at the last minute before the beast jolts back into action. Toddler have always had this strange contradiction: prestigious musicianship, pristine songwriting and perfect studio sound; yet somehow their end results, and the energy they give off on-stage, still feel wild, chaotic, and perhaps a little grumpy at times.
If ‘My Machine’ captures the beast in a state of lurching ignition, ‘Heaven Was Closed’ finds them philosophically contemplating the frustrations of actually getting anywhere. The band journeys between a reggae-influenced verse, laden with the sort of hooks 10CC would have jumped on, and a driving slow-rock chorus that will send shivers up the spine of any self-respecting Mike Patton fan. It’s an amazing track to listen to on a pair of headphones: you’re surrounded by the drums and percussion, as clever instrumental licks and the beautiful interplay between lead and counterpoint vocal melodies dance around your ears sumptuously. This is the album in a nutshell – amazing recordings of great songs which are both clever, catchy, and rewarding to the repeat listener.
Toddler always seemed to know their way around a studio so it shouldn’t have been in doubt that more time there would mean more magic, eventually. These are strong songs and Otero delivers them convincingly, having lost none of his range after ten years away from the mic. This is well complimented by great vocal performances from his band-mates throughout. The record is well paced too, keeping the energy up throughout, even when they take a side-step towards smoothness, like on ‘Mirrorball’, there’s always a driving force, meaning that even when they’re bouncy, light and fun, there’s a hint of under-lying tension and menace.
At first glance I thought the title, Idiolalia, may have been drawn from some strange nonsense poetry, like Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, but the real answer is even more perfect. It’s a term that describes a private language invented by a child, or particularly between twins. A perfect synonym for the shared language of these two musical twins, not identical but complimentary, pulling in a vast array of influences to craft a sound that’s instantly familiar and recognisably unique.
12 Stone Toddler are back, and they’ve come back big, with a new album which sits perfectly alongside their earlier releases, whilst sounding fantastically fresh. It will undoubtedly be an immediate favourite with fans who’ve spent a decade dreaming it into existence. However, here’s the crunch: will it land them the recognition they need beyond the safe confines of dedicated home-grown support? It certainly deserves to, and I for one will be willing them onwards and upwards from here.