Toby Tune – Introspection – Album Review
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d be willing to bet that Toby Tune is busy making more music right at this very moment as I’m typing this…and likely the same goes for right now, when you’re reading this review. A scan over his page at Soundcloud will easily back up why I’d assume this – you can visually see right there through the myriad of music posted to his page that this dude is one of those dedicated artists that eats, sleeps, and breathes, for his craft – quite literally, everyone can see the effort put in here. So props to Toby Tune and a salute of respect from me to him…I dig it when you can see that an artist or band is giving it everything they’ve got and riding that wave of inspiration with a series of releases. You can also see from the vast amount of labels & genres attached to Toby’s catalog that he’s been challenging himself as an artist year after year, creating music from alternative-rock vibes, comedy cuts, to melodic instrumental jams like you’ll find throughout the sparkling lineup on the Introspection record. The point is, the man is no stranger to music – you can visibly make sense of that before you even push play…but once you do, you’ll certainly discover that you can hear it as well. Introspection is stocked full of tiny tunes that are short in length but make the most of their time; and considering how quickly these songs will fly by you, believe me when I say, this record induces quite the craving for an instant repeat.
I like the ethereal way the record opens up and the mix of pace & space you’ll find in the way that the title-track “Introspection” flows, and the vocal-samples that soar throughout are spectacular additions. In being as direct with you all as I always have been, I don’t mind tellin’ ya that there’s a large chance that many of you out there will feel like I do…that the vast majority of this record continues to get better & better as it plays on and continually progresses. It’s in saying that, that I can tell ya I wasn’t always fully sold on “Introspection” myself at times – I had moments where the consistency of the main piano line felt like it could have been dialed back a bit, even though it’s essentially the heartbeat of what drives the momentum in this first cut. That one tiny element of this opening track would go on to be just about the only thing I’d remotely question throughout the set-list of songs on Introspection – and really, I’m not even complaining at all. Like I implied, I was fairly split on this each time I listened; sometimes it felt like “Introspection” found what it needed and came together as it should – and more than likely, it’s not until later comparison creeps in by listening to the record that it diminishes its potential impact a little. Of course, if you’re playing your cards right, you don’t want to fully reveal your whole hand in that first opportunity every time either – having a few tricks up your sleeve and not giving the entire strategy away in one shot can also play to the advantage of an album later on. “Introspection” serves its purpose well enough in acting as the gateway into the record, I’d never argue against that – but I’m also willing to tell ya that you’ll likely find every song afterwards will probably surpass your feelings & attachment towards this first song…which I think is ultimately a good thing. You’ll notice that structure plays a significant role in how this album moves you from beginning to end.
“Checkmate” broadened the appeal for myself personally – I found this to be a seriously creative & rad set of ideas & layers that worked spot-on. It’s as accessible for the people out there as it is unique – and that’s not always an easy combination to pull off for any artist to say the least – but you can audibly hear the inspiration that runs through Toby’s “Checkmate” from the snap of its synthetic percussion to the remarkable doses of melody you’ll find popping up throughout the song. And keep in mind – he’s more or less doin’ everything you’ll hear right from the comfort of his own home studio in Costa Rica, all from a keyboard set-up he’s jammin’ with – it’s quite impressive to hear the range of sounds you’ll find run throughout Introspection and the way they’re being used. Sometimes you’ll hear that digital/synthetic factor at work & likely on-purpose – and at other times, you’ll easily be convinced that what you’re hearing is the real deal played on the original instruments. Which it might be on occasion – rumor has it that friends of Toby’s are known to show up & make a contribution here & there from time to time. I don’t know which tunes or where…or if that’s even a thing that occurs on this record – all I know is what I like to hear, and the crisp snap & fresh energy Toby supplies into the bright sound of “Checkmate” is it. This music has authentic personality and a truly inviting warmth to it that beckons you in to listen more.
“Funk Me” will shift the sound to a low-end rhythm & groove that also works real magic on ya. If you’re any such of an audiophile like I am personally – and Toby clearly is as well – you’ll find tons to enjoy from the lefts to the rights in this lo-fi gem. The use of contrast here is exceptional in every sense of the word – it’s completely the way that the low-end grooves of “Funk Me” interact with the brightness in the layers surrounding it on the surface that ends up creating such a distinctly memorable combination. The use of harmonics is all-out spectacular folks, that I can tell ya…between that & the vibrant strings that come in, the constant cycling of the main rhythm sample, and the exquisite lead melody on the surface, I’d fail to be able to cite my favorite element individually – everything stacks up perfectly here. Of the first three cuts on Introspection, I felt like “Funk Me” was likely to end up reaching the widest audience for sure…I think it’s outright mesmerizing, hypnotic, and fascinating to listen to. A highlight example of how the right combination of sound-selection and production values can complement each other – “Funk Me” is an odyssey into uniqueness and a pure passion for exploring new depths in music.
In case you were somehow wondering, Toby Tune is far from short on personality, charm, and charisma; and he’ll flash all three of these elements at ya throughout “Boppin’” relentlessly. I think tracks like this are extremely interesting…like “Boppin’” is a serious hybrid of styles & sound, and that’s always bound to have mixed reactions with the people out there…but there’s something about how Toby really gets so into this cut that, to me, it seems like this song has the vibrant strength to pull us all in for a listen. “Boppin’” is like that great friend you have with all the energy; you always want it around, but you can’t necessarily always keep up with it, and sometimes you might not even be in the mood for it…but you’d never send it away or stop it from entertaining ya. So at times, you might find “Boppin’” goes much further over the top with its dazzling array of synthetically-induced sounds – but it’d be just as easy to conclude that a ton of people out there will fall in love with the way this track leaps out from the speakers from beginning to end as well. It’s a mischievous, Tango-esque style song that’s got miles of personality & punch to its structure, sound, and production…the execution is as on the money as you’ll find it is throughout the album…again, if it seems like I’m complaining, I’m not. There’s very little to pick apart on this record and less reason to be inclined to try – Toby’s got a good thing goin’ on and I’m not about to be the guy that rains on his parade. I’d listen to “Boppin’” and always end up with a smile on my face over on this side of the screen…the character & charisma is in abundance here; I questioned the inclusion of the metronomic click-track beat-thing a bit, but not much else personally. I think the neon sounds that Toby flashes in “Boppin’” do go to extremes, sure, but I also felt like they fit the vibe here.
I do know EXACTLY where the real turning point was for me when I was listening to Introspection for the first time – and with music having that knack for burning moments into your memory forever, I’ll likely remember the feeling I got from listening to “Tragically Cool” long into the future. This was that moment where I realized I had indeed been enjoying myself from the very seconds I pushed play on this record, but “Tragically Cool” was that next-level of connection, sound, and style you’re hoping to discover somewhere in an album’s worth of tunes. In essence, “Tragically Cool” is where things go from good to great – and you’ll hear the impact of this track have a massive ripple effect in the songs to come immediately afterwards. Quite honestly, I think it’s every bit as “Tragically Cool” as the title implies through its stunning mix of melancholy melody & radiantly endearing sound combined – and just about every single time you think you have a handle on the idea or how the song is going to flow, Toby switches it up or adds in a new element to keep this whole cut flowing impressively with compelling creativity. There’s something absolutely special about the sincerity he’s tapped into on “Tragically Cool” that just hits ya perfectly in the heartstrings without apologies, yet at the same time, you can’t ignore all the bizarre elements of this song that end up making it a supreme amount of genuine FUN to listen to as well. You’ll pass that first minute, and you’ll hear the energy snap into place…the clouds of the downtrodden aspect of the melody subside completely, and a much sunnier disposition comes in to replace it & beam out a gorgeous dose of audible sweetness that no set of ears out there could miss. Excellent balance between what feels like two worlds of sound meeting in the middle to find harmony.
“Homestay,” to me…was either just as brilliant or equally as incredible as the cut that came directly before it, making it a real one-two punch of awesomeness revealed in Introspection’s lineup as you head towards its middle. Ultimately, you could probably make the argument that the most melancholic & perhaps every heart-wrenching vibes are found right here on “Homestay” – but I think the balance here creates a genuinely beautiful effect that truly blossoms throughout the whole progression of this short & sweet tune. Like, when you hear it tick past that first minute, “Homestay” will go on to reveal a fantastically bold & gorgeous melody that has you listening to every twist & turn. There are a handful of tracks on this record that really end up standing out for all the right reasons when they expand past the initial impression you get from the first minute or so – and I’d definitely argue that “Homestay” fits into that category. Strong from the very beginning, its delicate nature comes out wonderfully bold and has every advantage in retaining your attention to start with – but listening to the way Toby pushes these ideas further like he does on “Homestay” really ends up making all the difference. Even in a short cut where he could have milked the opening moments of the first minute in “Homestay” for the entire 2:21 in length & we’d never have complained, he finds exciting ways to add more depth to the experience.
“Looking Forward” ends up providing a real intimate moment in the lineup of Tune’s Introspection – in fact, I think many people out there will be surprised at how effective the minimalistic approach works here. Even though once “Looking Forward” ticks past its first minute, you’ll find that similarly expressive expansion of the music like we’d experienced in the structure of “Homestay” somewhat just prior – you’ll find if you’re listening close to “Looking Forward,” there are probably less ingredients into this mix than the majority of the cuts on this album, but it seems to result in drawing us all in for a closer listen. You’ll find a lot of orchestral elements run through the threads of cohesion that tie this record together, and “Looking Forward” does a great job of dialing things back in such a way that this song feels like a moment to catch our breath as it begins, even though it’s also plenty clear that it’s about to find a second wind of its own and take flight in the latter half of its length. I liked the rolling snare, I loved the…I’m gonna go with harp towards the end, it sure sounds like one to me; “Looking Forward” still packs in more than enough to keep you fully engaged & entertained. If anything, its more minimalistic design works well in Toby’s favor here…”Looking Forward” feels like it unfolds like a great story does.
With its low-end synthetic rhythm masked in a shroud of seriousness, you feel the weight shift from the bright & dreamy melodies we’ve just experienced, and head towards something that seems much more mysterious & filled with curiously enticing & often epic sounds on “Positive Approach.” I like to think that, based on the title & based on the sound, “Positive Approach” is almost like the battle for your own mindset & attitude…and again, based on the implications of both title & sound, that positivity can be felt throughout the victorious vibes at work in this song. Like you feel like Toby has won the battle handily here…and aside from all my theories here, it’s a cut that switches up the sound on Introspection and finds success in retaining our attention in-full while making one of the most noticeable & dramatic transitions in the atmosphere & aura of the record’s set-list of songs. In my honest opinion, I think from the moment you push play on this album you really end up stepping right into Toby’s whole world of sound – but even in considering that fact, it still feels like you end up in a more adventurous moment in time in the throes of “Positive Approach” with its dramatic peaks & valleys. I love the toy-box twinkle in the music every bit as much as I love the epic rise of the horn-section that end up sparking the inspiration in this song even further…”Positive Approach” is fairly unlike the majority of the songs in the lineup of Introspection to a certain degree, but absolutely close enough to still feel cohesive & like it truly belongs in this set. All-in-all…I’d definitely go to bat for this cut and claim it’s one of the stronger & more memorable moments on Introspection…or that at the very least it’s more stocked with stellar sound bound to catch the people’s attention…either way you slice it, Toby comes out with a win here.
There’s a chance that “Cantina” has the toughest spot in the lineup to fill and get the impact & credit it likely deserves…but hopefully the people out there are hearing the excellent balance between the depths of the low-end groove & airy atmosphere on the surface and give this cut its proper due. If any of you out there have spent your time wisely listening to something along the lines of say, Lemon Jelly – you’d find that something like “Cantina” isn’t too far at all removed from that. And if you know anything about me personally, you probably know that I can’t ever get enough Lemon Jelly in my day, ever – so to have anything out there remind me of, or resemble that wonderful part of music’s history, believe me, you’ve definitely got me onboard. There’s something just so remarkably smooth & natural in songs like “Cantina” that it’s almost like we stumbled on Toby out there on his island somewhere, creating his own soundtrack right there in the beauty of his own backyard. Which I guess, he is essentially when it comes right down to it – you can hear the genuine chill & relaxation that comes with his personality shine through the subtle way “Cantina” moves & grooves with such an organic and welcoming mix of sound.
There are definitely some of tunes on this record you will be CRUSHED to find out remain as short as the rest of this lineup of cuts under three-minutes long…like I ain’t gonna lie to ya Toby, givin’ us less than two-minutes of “Ponderance” might just be classified as a crime in some countries my friend. I could have gone for five-times the amount of length to this cut, and you’d never find me daring to utter a solitary complaint whatsoever. All I am sayin’ folks is…I mean, look – there are quite a few incredibly impressive tracks throughout the lineup of Introspection without question…but something about the spirit in the sound of “Ponderance,” and that underlying thread of sincerity nestled deep in the melody & frequencies to be found here, absolutely hit a huge homerun. Is it my favorite cut on the record? There’s an extremely good chance it IS, yes…thank-you for asking. I’d have to at the very least put the stunning exploratory & colorful sound of “Ponderance” right up there with tracks like “Tragically Cool,” “Homestay,” & “Good Times” at the very end of the album as the highlights that grabbed me the most.
“Wanderlust” has a wonderfully exploratory & mysterious sound goin’ on. In relation to what Tune’s got this record labeled under – Soundtrack-style material & all…I think you really gotta hand it to him for uncovering a cut that just about every show in the mystery or sci-fi realms would benefit from squeezing into one of their scenes. Like any of you fans of shows like Stranger Things or Unsolved Mysteries wouldn’t be able to hear this fitting right into the bizarre realms of the unknown – know what I mean? “Wanderlust” is fully suited up with expressive & imaginative ideas that float in a space-like, crystalline atmosphere…drifting along and sparking up with dramatic moments impossible to miss along the way. Another highlight example of Toby’s gift for creating songs that are massively compelling and genuinely INTERESTING…”Wanderlust” plays vividly and works a brilliant melodic magic to conjure images in your mind as you take in this instrumental experience. Like you’ve slipped into another dimension of the album or found yourself suddenly lost within The Twilight Zone – Toby creates a fascinating degree of anticipation and slow-burning excitement throughout “Wanderlust” – I couldn’t get enough of this cut.
I probably dig on “Bacho Bop” more for its uniqueness than level of universal appeal – though I do believe there is still a solid amount of alluring sound at work here to pull in the hearts & minds of the people to listen. Ultimately, there’s a whole boatload of ideas, creativity, and genuinely artistic design in this tune – it’s just about as anti-typical as a song can get mind you, but for myself personally, the opportunity to have a listen to something unlike much else of what’s out there is always 100% welcome. There’s no question that Toby’s focused a bit more on creating something different here…and you can hear the effort to strive for that somewhat, but hey man, it’s appreciated ain’t it? It should be! I’m not here to argue that “Bacho Bop” is in the realm of tracks like “Wanderlust” or “Ponderance” – but at the end of the day, it’s every bit as well-executed as the rest of the songs on Introspection and really does succeed in setting itself apart from the rest of the entire lineup. If it’s not “Cantina” with the toughest spot to fill, it’s certainly this one…”Bacho Bop” was probably right on the fence with me in terms of whether or not it should appear in this set or have led Toby Tune into his next album instead, or perhaps been a single on its own – but you can’t find fault in the way things all come out ultimately. I think that “Bacho Bop” has very distinct character of its own…I think uniqueness is something that always has its own advantages, especially in solidifying a loyal & accepting fan-base over time…there’s still more than enough merit to warrant its existence in a set of songs as diverse as this one. Chances are it’s those vocal-samples that are throwing me for a bit of a loop; on one hand, they’re bizarrely addictive and quite an essential part of the vibe in this whole cut – on the other, when they show up it’s like you can’t take your mind off of’em to focus on anything else…if that makes any sense. Part of me wonders whether or not “Bacho Bop” would have come out stronger overall, or maybe more accessible if it didn’t have those samples…but I also fully recognize the vocal samples are quite likely the roots of the entire song/idea itself. Pretty tough to toss the main component of any recipe at the end of the day I suppose. Once again, when you hit the main transition & switch in direction around the 1:10-ish mark where you often find Toby amping-up the magic that 10% more for ya…I mean…that’s what it IS – it’s magical.
“Good Times” was such an interesting track to end on in my opinion. It feels like a real statement song at the end of Introspection – and quite possibly, one of, if not the most accessible & enticing tracks on the whole album. It was almost as if Toby was inferring that he could have gone this route all along, but through the twelve songs that come before “Good Times,” it becomes quite apparent he had a lot more he was seeking out to accomplish. As the title implies, “Good Times” are exactly what Toby Tune leaves you with…and just like I alluded to at the beginning of this review, it’s the structure and strengths of this album as it progresses, right up to this final cut, that really have you instantly wanting to spin it all over again. I’m all for short songs…I have zero problem with that, because that’s 100% what your repeat buttons are designed to handle…so even though I’ve made a crack or two about length and songs like “Ponderance” being an audible crime for their shortness – Toby’s kept it tight throughout Introspection and made sure to round all the right corners to keep our attention affixed & passionate engaged at all times. For an instrumental record, you’ll find it truly tells a story in the way it plays from beginning to end…and I’d imagine many listeners out there will feel like “Good Times” gives this tale the finale it deserves after such an impressive ride through so many chapters of stylistic sound & slick musicianship. I know I did…I’d probably even go as far as to say that Toby Tune might have the most appealing single potential shining brightly from your speakers as Introspection draws itself to a close – its rumbling rhythm and sweet synthetic shimmer soars powerfully into a colorful swirl of highly imaginative sound throughout “Good Times” and finishes the album with a massively catchy & glossy gem that’ll have you reaching for the repeat button, as promised. And you should. Tell Toby I sent ya. Enjoy!
Find out more about Toby Tune at his official website at: http://www.tobytune.com