“Are we having fun yet? Living in the grey zone”? The Toads ask the question and already know the answer. There’s many a wry smile, often packed with gallows humour, shared on the Melbourne groups’ debut album “In the Wilderness” (out June 9th on Anti Fade and Upset The Rhythm). Navigating the dross of modern life, whilst keeping one foot in a dream is the key to their nervy post-punk scuffle. Featuring members of The Shifters, The Living Eyes and Parsnip you’d be forgiven for guessing what The Toads sound like, but their mordant step and minor-key enchantment makes for an intriguing parry.
The Toads hatched after a short period of domestic readjustment mid-2021. Billy Gardner (guitar) found himself in need of a roof after his home was consumed by fire, and was kindly hosted by friend Stella Rennex (bass). Elsie Retter (drums) was a regular visitor to the house and after seeing Miles Jansen (vocals) tear it up with his other band at the local bowls club, they invited him along to sprinkle his deadpan musings across their fledgling sound. Pretty quickly they hit on their direction; a savvy, snappy lo-fi pop as openhearted as it is brooding.
After playing some formative shows, including a debut at Jerkfest in 2022, The Toads set about recording five songs mid-year for a tentative EP. Realising the songs were too long to fit on a 7”, they booked in another recording session the following September to extend the EP to 12”. Two tracks’ chords structures were fleshed out with new melodies and arrangements, and by this point The Toads were surprised to find they had an album’s worth of material. ‘In The Wilderness’ is a beguiling record, full of twists and turns. It’s arch, resilient, thoughtful and straight-at-your-head catchy to boot.
It’s fitting that the title track “In The Wilderness” draws this record to a close, being the peak of their invention so far. Drums pound and tumbling bass-lines sprint among the crisply stabbing guitar phrases and soaring horns outro. It’s a survivalist epic of hard-worn wisdom, ambling and restless. “I open up the door trying to get all of us through” sings Miles, becoming progressively more dizzy and despondent. There is a sense of toughing it out that never falters though and this is the essence of what The Toads do best. They push onwards into the darkness and keep their appetite, pulling us all into the light.