Toy City is an act which combines the brainy lyrics of, say, The Mountain Goats, with anthemic rock that may remind you of Joshua Tree era U2 music. The ‘band’ is a collaboration between Paul Burke, a filmmaker, and Steve Shaheen, a sculptor. They originally met in Boston during the ‘90s, and reconvened in 2020 to revisit their musical past, if you will. The result is an album with plenty of intriguing and noteworthy songs.
This self-titled album begins and ends with reimagined familiar songs. The first, “Do Re Mi,” you may recognize as a song from the film The Sound of Music. It’s the perfect song to start an album with because the song’s first line states, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” Thus, Toy City does just that. The album closes with another song reorg, as these artists rearrange the melody and the rhythm to John Lennon’s secularist hymn, “Imagine.”
Naturally, filmmaker Burke is credited with writing the lyrics to “Bicycle Thief,” as it is based around a series of famous film titles. Other unique lyrical applications include “The Figure 5,” which is a William Carlos Williams poem put to music, and “Glue-All,” which is musical instructions on how to use Elmer’s Glue – yes, you read that right.
There is sonic similarity found in most all the songs on this release. They’re often built upon a repeated guitar riff, which is joined by crisp drumming. Singing is more conversational than musical, which isn’t a bad thing; this approach just puts nearly all the focus on the words. As you may have surmised already, Toy City is quite the literate act.
While many of these songs take a kind of outsider observational perspective, one song in particular is more personal. Titled “Mountains,” it begins with the truism, “Mountains are climbed/One step at a time.” While simple, these phrases are profoundly true. Just as anyone in recovery will tell you that overcoming substance abuse can only be accomplished one day at a time, the same goes for nearly every desired accomplishment – especially the big, mountainous ones. It takes time, persistence, and patience to climb life’s mountains.
Toy City can be quite wordy, it’s true, but one track called “Your Story,” includes only two lines. “How your story sets you free? /Now your story sets you free.” These words are repeated, almost like a kind of mantra. It’s a 2:34 song, with few words.
The pandemic caused a lot of havoc. And yet, it changed our lives so radically, many of us found ourselves engaging in activities we would not have involved ourselves in otherwise, had it not been for such a drastic change in the world. This certainly holds true for Burke and Shaheen. The film and art worlds were put on hold, if you will, which opened up the opportunity for these two to create music together again. Their album is a smart collection of songs, and they say this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Toy City. Touring and more recording are in their plans for the future. With good reason, we all look forward to these plans.
We do music reviews for Independent Artists and Publicists.