TOY have always dabbled in the sinister, but the quintet’s fourth album, Happy in the Hollow, is their most wholehearted embrace of ominous murk. If their last LP, Clear Shot, was a moderately dark album, then Happy in the Hollow is near pitch-black with just a small lit torch to navigate through the darkness. While their previous albums leaned on a mix of psychedelia, krautrock and shoegaze, their latest full-length is much more fluid—injecting a bit of wiry post-punk, dialing back some of the indulgent psychedelic pastiches, and underscoring the sublime hooks and melodies that made them such a fascinating group in the first place.
Knowingly or not, “Sequence One” provides a sturdy example of the album’s lyrical dynamic (”Smokey sentimental crush / Turns into atomic sludge”). TOY never fully commit to dewy-eyed romance or moody, winding sci-fi and instead, they occupy an arresting lyrical middle ground between the tangible and intangible. Their motorik rhythms, gloomy guitar work and Dougall’s spectral vocals result in a creepy aura while their various synths and keyboards either enhance its hair-raising quality or counteract it with shimmering pop crescendos. Their guitars are often intensely rhythmic and blistering or harrowing and atmospheric, but always with a distinct purpose.
“It’s a world of make believe,” coos Dougall in the closing line of the lead track, and while some bands desperately try to transport you with their own unique aesthetic and universe each time you press play on their record, TOY can transport listeners without any unnatural posturing. With the warbling, eerie synths on “Mistake a Stranger,” intermixed with dexterous acoustic guitar plucks, TOY are nothing if not for their otherworldliness. It’s hard to imagine acoustic guitars sounding as spine-chilling as they do on “Last Warmth of the Day,” but oddly enough and without hesitation, you’ll welcome Dougall to inch closer and closer with his magnetic charm and tantalizing hum. “Energy” is their most vigorous and overtly post-punk cut with its spoken word mystique, lashing guitars and engine-like rhythms, and it opens a promising stylistic gateway that could be further pursued next time around.
Five tracks in, “The Willo” finally lightens the mood with its playful drum machine and though a foreboding lyrical sense remains, there’s a discernible warmth and a tacit reassurance that fate holds you in good hands. As the vocals fade in and out of focus on the electro-pop “Jolt Awake,” TOY veer into more slippery territory, but their post-punk rhythms prohibit it from metamorphosing into an ill-defined mist. The synth riff that glues together “Mechanism” is one of the album’s best moments with its simple decadence and a mechanical pace that its track title alludes to.
“Strangulation Day” is the first cut that doesn’t reach its full potential, but it’s an essential mood bearer and bridge to the album’s most delicate track, “You Make Me Forget Myself.” On the aforementioned song, bassist Maxim Barron takes over lead vocal duties with humble allure, and it’s the band’s most tender song to date. Despite not matching the thrilling highs of Clear Shot or their self-titled debut, TOY make a strong case for Happy in the Hollow as their most cohesive and compelling record. The record’s intense, shadowy first half and airy, graceful second half culminates in an mercurial odyssey that unabashedly celebrates TOY’s eccentricities.