Dusted Reviews

Toychestra & Fred Frith - What Leave Behind

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Toychestra & Fred Frith

Album: What Leave Behind

Label: S.K.

Review date: Jun. 24, 2004

I am one of a great number of listeners in the experimental and avant-garde music community who will go to great measures to experience nearly anything with which Fred Frith is involved, be it a film soundtrack, a solo guitar piece or a full band prog freakout. What Leave Behind is a delicious addition to Frith’s oddball oeuvre, yet the most compelling charms in its brief running time are to be found in the teasingly ecstatic cacophony that is Toychestra.

Toychestra are six women from Bay Area who, with perfectly skewed savvy, arrange and perform symphonic miniatures using an array of children’s toys and noisemaking devices. Some of the instrumental voices come from more traditional and “playable” equipment - toy pianos, tyke sized drum sets, “my first xylophone,” and so on - but much of the racket is produced with a number of oddball noisemakers: kitschy electronic gizmos, tot learning devices, and found percussive objects. These seemingly inconsonant sources are then (with a display of collage chops that proves this isn’t just kid stuff) coaxed and cajoled, thwacked and rattled into original compositions- or, as the case may be, approximations of works from composers ranging from Dvorak to Martin Denny. The resulting highly disciplined foolery has been showcased at community centers, elementary schools, and rock clubs the world over.

What Leave Behind was composed by Dan Plonsey, whose involvement with Berkeley’s Beanbender Creative Music Series first insprired him to combine the celebrated talents of Mr. Frith with the delirious lullabies of Toychestra. The results are hilarious, stunning, intense, and highly listenable. Feedback washes and spastic skronks from Frith’s guitar volley over the intro to the track “Fellini,” while the sci-fi march of Toychestra tumbles along behind him, evoking images of what the teddy bears might do to the hapless after one of their picnics. “Grover Rides a Happy Honker” is a more delicate affair, replete with Copland-esque interjections and joyously playful percussion. Most appealingly, the potency of the collaboration very quickly transcends what on the surface might appear to be gimmickry.

Like the reverberation of a adult’s reminiscence of childhood Sundays, the haunting closing track “When to Rewind” and its nearly a capella chorale of female voices (Frith contributes chilling volume swells and icy skitters) plays like an indie-rock Anonymous 4; it is polyphonic bedtime music for the half-forgotten child within. A perfect close to a day of play. When unconstrained talents like Fred Frith meet fellow journeywomen like Toychestra, it can only be assumed that the collaboration will at least be interesting. What is thoroughly satisfying , however, is the authenticity and unpretentiousness that this meeting achieves. Joy and heartbreak are the twin companions of childhood, and Toychestra and Fred Frith have evoked both.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

Read More

View all articles by Casey Rae-Hunter

Find out more about S.K.

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.