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Album Review

Toy City – ‘Toy City’ [Album Review]

Rubbing with grungy flavours of indie-rock against tinges of edgy prog-rock, Toy City delivers a refreshing array of innovative songs.



Toy City ‘Toy City’ album artwork

Indie-rock duo Toy City released their self-titled album due to the pandemic, which brought film production in L.A. and the art scene in New York to a screeching halt. Filmmaker Paul Burke and sculptor Steve Shaheen, who met while playing in the Boston alt-rock scene of the ’90s, needed something creative to do. So, they went back to songwriting.

While creating the album, the pair worked remotely. Working out of a basement studio in San Francisco, Burke would pen the songs and lay down guitars, vocals, drums, and piano. Those tracks were then shared with Shaheen in Brooklyn, who composed a myriad of bass and midi tracks to mould the lush and strange sonic landscape that defines the Self-Titled record’s sound.

The unsung hero of this narrative is John Russell, a talented multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer based in Brooklyn (and bassist for the band Kal Marks), who spent countless hours mixing and producing the tracks in his home studio with Shaheen. Altogether, they have created a nine-song LP that feels immediate, energetic, and real.

The album contains two uncommon visions of common covers: The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a William Carlos William poem set to music, “Figure 5,” the recitation of Elmer’s Glue instructions, “Glue-All,” and a repurposing of Neorealist Italian film titles, “Bicycle Thief.”

Toy City begins with “Do Re Mi,” which is less of a cover than a total reimagining of the iconic song, travelling on raw textures of alt-rock guitars riding a tight, potent rhythm.

Speaking subjectively, entry points include the low-slung, thrumming “Dinosaur,” radiating prog-rock suggestions of Pink Floyd merged with U2. Dreamy vocals give the lyrics almost lazy, drifting surfaces as droning tones pervade the topline.

Toy City explains, “This is a song about the panic of approaching middle age, the feeling of irrelevance, and the fear of living a life that is not authentic. At the time, I was attempting to gather together the friends and musicians I had played with in Boston, only to find them too caught up in their lives to be able to commit to playing and writing new music.”

Toy City - Paul Burke and Steve Shaheen

Toy City – Paul Burke and Steve Shaheen

At once raggedy and visceral, “Mountains” projects savours of ’90s alt-rock, narrating a journey of personal growth. For some reason, the tattered flow of the harmonics and the introspective tones of the vocals convey tinctures of melancholy, perhaps regret.

The lyrics of “Bicycle Thief” are pure genius, stringing together a series of film titles in such a way as to form a cohesive whole. According to Toy City, “These titles are arranged in such a way as to give a narrative arc to the song that could be the subject of a film from this historical period.”

Perhaps the best song on the album, “Margherita Regina” features shimmering guitars, a fat, lumbering bassline, and a deliciously scruffy rhythm as Burke’s rasping voice asks St. Michael to intervene in his request for historical documents pertaining to his great-grandmother.

Rubbing with grungy flavours of indie-rock against tinges of edgy prog-rock, Toy City delivers a refreshing array of innovative songs.

Toy City Track Listing:

1. Do Re Mi
2. Dinosaur
3. Mountains
4. Glue – All
5. Your Story
6. Figure 5
7. Bicycle Thief
8. Margherita Regina
9. Imagine

Run Time: 30:11
Release Date: May 5, 2023
Record Label: Independent