Remarkably, Brighton outfit Toy’s fourth, and latest record, Happy in the Hollow, comes almost a decade since the band formed. Since then, they’ve not only grown in confidence but, musically, they’ve become much broader with a vaster outlook and back catalogue. Happy in the Hollow, their first album away from label Heavenly Recordings – they’re now on Tough Love Records – was written and produced in its entirety by the band themselves and that creative control is telling. A sonic journey through the worlds of psych, Happy in the Hollow is an experimental and diverse listen that offers more and more on each listen. For better and for worst, Happy in the Hollow is a project that could only come from Toy.
While Toy’s earlier efforts felt more like complete projects, Happy in the Hollow seems to revel in its multiplicity. So while ‘Energy’ is exactly that, a spiky and passionate burst that is as sleazy as it is stylish, it’s instantly juxtaposed with the brooding, swirling ‘Last Warmth of the Day’ that evokes a fiery heat with its gloomy finger-picking guitar and sinister vocals. Both dramatic tracks, that could easily score a cult Western classic, yet almost the opposite musically, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the diversity in Happy in the Hollow. A wild ride through the darkness of psychedelia in just about every way, it’s a delightful journey that changes at the drop of a hat.
It’s with latest single ‘Mechanism’ where the band begin to flex their pop sensibility. A far-reaching psych-pop number, with captivating electronic beats in the vein of Kraftwerk’s Tour De France, it’s a wonderful, open-ended exploration of psychedelia that builds with outlandish waves that wash over you with each distinctive murmuring beat. ‘Mechanism’ marks a synth section to Happy in the Hollow, too, where a sunnier nature breaks through the clouds. ‘Strangulation Day’s synth is infectious and old-school with its metronome-esque backdrop, while ‘You Make Me Forget Myself’ is a melancholia-tinged number with a perfectly conducted whistling screech reinforcing its sepia outlook.
Furthermore, Tom Dougall’s vocals have never been better. Falling somewhere between Ian Brown’s monotone euphoria and Tom Waits’ doom-mongering, his dark edge is a recurring theme throughout. Essentially the glue to Happy in the Hollow, the likes of ‘The Willo’, which clocks in at just over seven minutes, and ‘Jolt Awake’ are given a menacing and cutting-edge that elevates the theatrical quality to the record. There are a few missteps, of course, but they are few and far between. Earlier on, ‘Sequence One’s baggy outlook is entirely forgettable, while the instrumental on ‘Charlie’s House’ doesn’t offer enough to warrant its entry here.
Yet, on the whole, Happy in the Hollow is, quite beautifully, both refined and exotic, euphoric and desolate and vast and insular. A difficult album to condense, it simply has to be listened to. Like The Horrors and Temples grew up on Grinderman and Townes Van Zandt instead of Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground, Happy in the Hollow is a dizzying, and somewhat surprising delight. Gone are the late-80s and early-90s influences of Stereolab and Pulp, Toy have come of age and created something wholly unique to them.