Who saw this one coming? Sure, last year’s solo debut, Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Figg, hinted at James Toth’s straight-laced songwriting chops, but don’t tell me anyone ever expected to see a bona fide singer/songwriter affair with Wooden Wand’s name on it. Accompanied by his Sky High Band — a mish-mash of Sky Green Leopards and Vanishing Voices — Toth delivers just that. Spooky sonics, free-jazz improv and murky psychedelics are dropped in favor of stripped-down country arrangements and a focus on storytelling. Weird, huh? Stranger still, it’s also fucking fantastic.
Second Attention was supposedly cooked up during a two-week stay in a modified San Francisco house, the sessions fueled by a constant stream of drugs and booze. It’s somewhat fitting that this environment caused an oddity such as Toth to create the most “normal” sounding release of his career, but it also worked wonders on his lyrics. If this newfound muse is the result of Toth’s brain on drugs, I hope he never gets sober.
The downright bizarre imagery that Toth colors these dusty, back-porch ditties with is what elevates these songs from your typical Starbucks compilation fare. I don’t know what’s happening in “Los Angeles Manna” when “The vampires demand reparations/ And gypsies lie down in the mud/ And a baby was born from thin air,” but I’m damn sure intrigued. Even Toth’s more coherent yarns are sprinkled with memorable turns of phrase such as “The Bleeder” whose leeches “pull those yippin’ dogs from within you/ like whalers cleaning monsters from inside.”
It’ll be interesting to see what influence, if any, Second Attention holds over future Vanishing Voice releases. The band would arguably lose some of its intrigue if it were to step back from its hazy atmospherics, but if Toth could carry over this newfound lyrical prowess to his regular gig, we’d all be in for something truly special.
“Portrait in the Clouds” MP3