What is “Toytown Pop”? The label, coined by fans and collectors, refers to the more mundane and child-friendly aspects of the psychedelic era and psych pop movements. It is chiefly concerned with everyday life, shops, buses, swings in the park, and has an obsession with being home in time for tea. In terms of lyrical concerns and overall concepts, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more…1967.
For those who aren’t regular visitors down the rabbit holes of cult 60s pop, The Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ is a good example of this musical niche with its busy narrative driven by people and casual observations, and to a lesser extent, the optimistic tone and bounce of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ could also fit the remit. Obviously, due to licencing agreements and costs – as usual – you won’t find The Fab Four anywhere on ‘Climb Aboard My Roundabout’, but Grapefruit Records has unearthed a whole world of other treats to ensure that this three disc set is a very comprehensive journey through Toytown, and is never less than interesting.
The huge box set reissue of Howard Jones’s ‘Humans Lib’ was a real treat for fans. A multi format set, it presented the classic album with a wealth of bonus materials, including unreleased demos, alternate versions and radio sessions. The biggest draw, though, came from its visual content. The lavish set finally gave a DVD release to the long out of print ‘Live In Japan’ VHS, much to the delight of almost everyone.
Unfortunately, that box was both prohibitively expensive and a really limited run, meaning that only hardcore fans would get to see that footage in decent quality, and in some cases for the first time in many a long year. Luckily, the 2022 release ‘Live At The NHK Hall, 1984’ comes to the rescue, since it offers the same film at an affordable price, but improves upon the previous release by presenting it alongside an uncut version of the audio soundtrack.
Roy Shakked’s ‘Know Nothing’ EP (released in 2018) provided a superb look into his idiosyncratic and varied writing styles. By pulling influence from Eels, Jack White and Paolo Nutini, it covered a broad musical range, but still sounded like the work of a man with his own set of talents. He then threw a massive curveball by releasing an album’s worth of waltzes (fittingly titled ‘Waltzes’) which blended some low key pop with piano pieces, and bits that sounded as if they were written with soundtracks in mind. For the more patient listener, it was an album that offered a few cherry-pickable treats, but it suggested that Shakked always made music for the love of the creative process rather than chasing easy fame.
Since the release of their 2019 EP, JATK – a band featuring Matt Jatkola and a revolving cast of friends – has slowly built a solid online following. A series of digital singles released throughout the lockdowns of 2020 and ’21 showcased some great and fuzzy, retro rock music, but also seemed unafraid to throw a few pop influences into the mix. This showed a band who were keen to avoid easy labelling; a band starting out on an adventurous path, and a band who had the potential to deliver a rich and varied full length release somewhere down the track. Simply put, JATK quickly marked themselves out as a very cool collective.
Alex Lifeson is a legend. More importantly, he’s a legend that’s never been afraid of musical change. The early Rush albums introduced fans to a hard edged and very distinctive guitar sound; the classic era of Rush from 1980-91 found him exploring various cleaner sonic textures that were distinctive in a very different way, but equally as cool. His Victor project from 1996 showed how his complex approach could be applied to a whole range of rock moods, and while some of that album’s heavier moments didn’t sit well with everyone, it was a very interesting release.