Posted on May 24th, 2010 (1:40 pm) by Tim Gilman

Friendo is one of a number of artists starting to emerge from the burgeoning Calgary scene. The band was formed by some of Calgary’s finest musicians, most notably Mike Wallace of Women (whose self-titled 2008 album sounds at times similar to Cold Toads). While the album has already been released on cassette, it was released on vinyl for the first time on May 18th. Perfect: Cold Toads is yet another slab of lo-fi rock, so it's only suitable that it should only be found on analog formats. But while it might be easy to dismiss Friendo as yet another recession-conscious lo-fi band, a thorough listen to Cold Toads demonstrates that lo-fi doesn't have to restrict a band's sound – there’s room for creativity even with the most basic recording equipment.

Of course, there’s a healthy dose of more traditional rock along with the experimental stuff. The album kicks off with “Counter/Time,” in which the band is possessed by the ghosts of music past and present. “Counter/Time” starts off sounding similar to much of the lo-fi coming out these days: barely audible vocals, weird mixing choices (both here and throughout the album, guitar is much higher in the mix than drums or vocals), and abrasive, dissonant guitar stabs combine to create a listening experience not easily enjoyed by the average listener. But then the song quickly morphs into a 90s indie rock throwback, sounding almost like a bizarro version of Pavement’s “Box Elder.” Quite simply, this portion of the song encourages maximum head-bobbing on the part of the listener. Thankfully the song ends on this high note, anticipating the high standard of quality found on the rest of the album.

And what else is there to find on Cold Toads? There's some slightly standard rock fare, both downcast (“Liners”) and frantic (“New Sibley”). But included alongside these solid (albeit traditional) songs are some creative, unorthodox ideas. Aside from “Callers,” the intro of “Hailey Oman”provides the best example. It's reminiscent of riding in a car and searching the radio for a song to listen to, only to hear the same song on every station (except, thankfully, it is not 1999 and this song is better than “Smooth” by Carlos Santana. Seriously, that song was inescapable). “Hailey Oman” creatively holds your attention throughout its duration in order to see if you'll hear any of the snippets that were contained in the intro. Friendo manage to increase listener participation, making for interactive enjoyment, rather than passive listening.

“Callers” sits pretty in the middle of the album, and it's here where the heart of the album and of Friendo resides. Unlike the more traditional rock stylings found on the rest of the album, “Callers” is more relaxed and experimental. Hazy, layered vocals fuse with repetitive guitar strums and a simple drumbeat to form one of the best music-induced trances in recent memory. It's hard not to listen without feeling like one of the people dancing in this video:

But this engrossing trance only makes up three-fourths of “Callers.” The last fourth is a lengthy outro featuring backwards guitar loops. I don't know about you, but I'm kind of a sucker for those loops—one of the first times I heard them was on “Gravity Rides Everything” by Modest Mouse. But while Modest Mouse had a major-label budget, a fully functioning recording studio and Brian Deck at their disposal, Friendo only had four-tracks, cheap laptops and themselves. Yet despite these restrictions, Friendo were able to create this beautiful looping outro.

I know, I know, “Why are you making such a big deal about the loops? Calm down.” Well, I’m making a big deal out of them because that relatively short instance of musical creativity holds the key to what makes Friendo so appealing: they're not afraid to be creative and shoot for the stars despite not having much to work with. It can be easy for people to get into the mindset that they're not capable of doing something worthwhile because they don't have access to certain things that are traditionally necessary to achieve their goals. In Friendo's case, the band could have decided not to make the outro of “Callers” because those loops might have seemed like something that could only be accomplished by bands with access to a professional recording studio and equipment, but they went ahead and gave it a shot and ended up successful. And honestly, that's the main thing to take away from Cold Toads: living within your means and doing what you want to do don't have to be mutually exclusive. The same is true in music.

Track List:
1. Counter/Time
2. Liners
3. Callers
4. Oversees
5. Hailey Oman
6. New Sibley
7. Young Fellows

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

72 / 100
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