Born in a Brooklyn apartment, while suffering from a broken foot and a broken heart, Tōth’s upcoming debut album – Practice Magic and Seek Professional Help When Necessary – is a must for fans of The Beta Band and Sufjan Stevens.
The debut single, Copilot, found its way into NPR’s top songs of 2018 and is a great starting point if you’re not familiar with his work – blending his gorgeous voice with a quirky backdrop. But his mesmerising third single, When I Awoke, which features his stunningly haunting backing vocals is out today, and it is his best and most accomplished yet.
So, to mark the release of When I Awoke, which is available now across all streaming services, we caught up with Alex aka Tōth to find out his Sound & Vision picks:
3 FAVOURITE ALBUMS:
Blues and The Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson
My influences are hard to pinpoint and have ranged in deep ways from late 60s psychedelic rock to funk/afrobeat to ambient/drone music (Laraaji, Greg Davis) to bebop and free jazz to pop (in the form of Beatles, beach boys, Rihanna & Beyonce) to new wave and art rock affinities (Deerhoof, Talking Heads), and “post-punk/grunge” (Fugazi, Pixies, Joy Division). One thing I can say for certain is Blues and The Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson changed the course of my life. It came at a pivotal moment and asked the question: “Are you gonna fuck off and get wasted all the time or are you serious about pursuing music?” And the earth-shaking answer was — as Freddie Hubbard came ripping in with a brilliant trumpet solo on Cascades —I’m gonna practice trumpet for eight hours a day and then get wasted (this was long before I got sober). I literally put the beer down in my freshman dorm room at University of Vermont and grabbed my trumpet.
Colour Green by Sibylle Baier
I rarely listen to records all the way through these days and even more rarely do I come back to a record over and over again. This is one that calls to me frequently. It has a feeling — a fragility and beauty — that resonates very deeply. The story behind it kind of blows my mind as well. How Sibylle was basically unknown and her son found these tapes many years after they were recorded. This music sounds like it was made entirely for personal reasons. The purity is striking as hell.
Northern Songs by Chris Weisman and Greg Davis
Vermont is near and dear to my heart. I spent formative musical years there. It’s a state with an identity and values placed in happiness, health, unique DIY creativity, local and organic food/culture and community/family. This record is a collaboration of two brilliant Vermont-based musician and one I’ve listened to endlessly which deeply embodies this spirit. Chris Weisman is a prolific singer-songwriter who happens to have shredding jazz guitar chops which he doesn’t use here. Greg Davis is an ambient/drone composer who uses unique acoustic instrumentation and analog electronics to achieve what I’ll call “a psychedelia of the most healing variety.” This is a strange post-Beatles pop record that few know about and I love it.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I’m not sure this is my favourite book, but it’s certainly one of the most impactful haunting reads of my life.
I read it over 15 years ago when I was in high school. It — and also the film Apocalypse Now which is inspired by Conrad’s novel — asks questions about human nature and morality through a metaphor of riding a boat down a river deep in a jungle (Congo in the book and Vietnam in the film). Outside of society, rules, the concept of “neighbour”—what is at your core holding you together? When you get off the boat, all bets are off. It’s fascinating/disturbing to think about the extremes humans (all of us) are capable of under changing conditions: great generosity, love and cooperation as well as the worst atrocities. And I basically think about this daily.
I have no idea what my favorite film is. Maybe this is a lame-o obvious choice since it won a bunch of Oscars last week but the most gorgeous film I’ve seen recently is Roma. Everything about it. The richness / uniqueness of the characters, the unbelievable detail in the set design and exquisite cinematography. This film feels like it emerged directly from a deep well of lived in personal experiences. And I guess I like art that feels almost biographical of its maker (*I just looked it up, it IS “semi-autobiographical” ha). That’s a vulnerable thing to do. But also it’s smart because what do you know better than your actual experience? Movies often send me into a creative writing frenzy afterwards—and this one inspired a song very directly.
A SONG THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME
Eli by Arthur Russell
Arthur Russell is one of my biggest influences. I have a stick and poke “AR” tattoo on my arm with his initials (which a friend gave me one night at 2AM when they were on LSD). Most everything AR made sounds natural and entirely not forced. His “message” feels pure and unadulterated. Which makes it VERY unique. I had the opportunity to be a part of a tribute concert to him at BAM opera house a few years back covering a big swath of his whole catalogue. And it all started for me with this song Eli. I don’t know if this quote by Schopenhauer about art is true or not—and not to be dramatic—but this Arthur Russell song embodies it for me: “music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.”
Tōth’s debut album, Practice Magic and Seek Professional Help When Necessary, will be released on Figureight Records in the UK/Europe in May.