What I Am Listening To, February 2020

This month I am doing my best to not go crazy during the 3rd UK lockdown by enjoying some good music.

My firs choice is the excellent No Plan EP by David Bowie.

This EP consists of tracks that were recorded during the making of his final album and masterpiece Blackstar. These tracks did not make the album with the exception of Lazarus. All the tracks here are excellent my favorite being No Plan. What I love about this song is the enigmatic lyrics that hint and Bowie’s death (the video also hints that we are receiving a transmission from beyond the grave). the solo by Donny McCaslin at the end of the song is very tasteful and understated.

Next is one of my new favorite bands Karnivool and their album Sound Awake. Although they are new to me Karnivool have been active for many years and have built a strong following under the radar. They join the growing list of interesting acts I have discovered coming out of Australia in recent years.

This album is aggressive and subtle at the same time. All of the songs are carefully structured and crafted something that is occasionally missing from heavier music. Whilst Karinvool have clearly been influenced by other bands they have found a distinctive sound of their own which is not derivative. Despite having been around since the 90s I had not heard of them until a couple of years ago via the buzz that was generate online about the amazing bass tones John Stockman and producer Forrester Savell achieved on the song Goliath. The mixing on the whole album is a wonderfully clear, you can really here a lot of detail even during heavier moments.

On the opposite end of the musical spectrum I have been enjoying listening to the Keith Jarret Trio and their album Setting Standards. This trio became famous for taking old standards and taking a new and interpreting them in a free and unconventional way. I must confess that at times I am not totally sure what is going on, even on tunes I have actually played many times and know well. There is a certain austerity to the aesthetic of the piano trio that has always been attractive to me. Of the three CDs of this album my favorite is the 3rd CD which contains a series of freely improvised pieces. The musical telepathy that occurs between the trio is magical. Whatever may be said about Jarrett scathing opinions about other styles of music or his cranky outbursts on stage the music is beautiful. There have often been a element of snobbery in Jazz towards other styles and towards the audience that I find distasteful. This is partly I think due to the intellectual nature of the music, it takes considerable intellectual effort to master. People who posses such faculties and are willing to put the effort in may sometimes feel this puts them above others. This is true in a technical sense, but art is not the product of mere facility it is so much more than that. The beautiful can be simple too.

I have also been enjoying this strange take on a song by Duke Ellington with by Japanese musicians:

In addition, I have been re listening to the excellent Gary Willis album Larger Than Life.

I have write about this album previously but had a hard time understanding it the first time around. The second listening has proved very beneficial and I have been able to appreciated the supreme artistry on this recording. My current favorite tracks are the beautiful ballad Say It Ain’t So and the weird Alien Head explodes. I really enjoyed the strange sonic palette that is used on that track and the whole album. Larger Than Life definitely has a strong Jazz aesthetic but it is by no means conventional. I really admire Garry Willis for putting out something so bizarre. It should also be mentioned that the band on this album are really strong . I will certainly be checking out more Garry Willis in the future.

If you have any suggestions as to what I should be listening to please feel free to reach out to me on the Contact Page.


It is with great pride that I can announce that my new album Shadows is out now.

Bringing this project to fruition has been a long and at times challenging process. This album deals with a difficult part of my life that I now think in thankfully behind me. I always feel a bit odd about writing about the meaning of instrumental music, as strictly speaking the music has no explicit message. What I hope it does convey is some of the emotions I was experiencing and the struggle that goes on inside every one of us between hope and despair.

Whilst the bass is featured heavily on most of the tracks I hope that those who hear Shadows will think of it as yet another one of those solo albums by bass players that can be so tedious to listen to. Whatever it’s musical shortcomings I am proud of the fact that I am not subjecting the listener to overly long piece of work. Out of al of the tracks that I recorded for this project I have tried to be ruthless in cutting what is unnecessary. Hopefully what remains is only the best material. That said, t is impossible to maintain critical distance from your own work. Because of this I cannot speak directly the Shadows artistic merit. In a world that is so oversaturated with music one must think carefully about putting yet more out there. Clearly I believe my work to be deserving of an audience or I would have not released it in the first place. For those in a rush I think the strongest track is Hope.

Writing this work has challenged me, I am used to writing with others and as this is a purely solo project I had no one else to fall back on or draw inspiration from. Completing work on your own requires a discipline that I am not used to. I am grateful that the muse has allowed me to conqueror my demons this time and finish something entirely guided by my own wishes. Most of the music was completed before the pandemic took hold, but it seems appropriate that in an age of isolation I should release Shadows.

My thanks go to Robin Newman who mixed and mastered all of the songs. The first mixes he produced were so good that very few changes were requested by me. Not only has he helped me with sculpting the audio but also answered all of my mixing questions no matter how stupid or silly they were.

Looking forward, I hope to get Shadows out on CD too, but this may take some time.

I do not expect many people to hear Shadows . To those who chose to spend some of their time with my music you have my gratitude. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Toby Coe

London, 2021

What I Am Listening To, January 2021

I am celebrating the start of 2021 by enjoying some new music to hopefully spark new ideas and refresh my creatively. The first CD I checked out is the raucous album Somewhere Far Beyond by Blind Guardian.

This album exists very far outside my musical comfort zone and I have enjoyed it all the more for that reason. The Tolkienesque theme reminds me of Argus by Whishbone Ash which set the standard for combining high fantasy and electric guitars. What is different about Blind Guardian’s effort is its total lack of restraint and the wild musical aggression which is characteristic of most of the songs. I find this complete lack of what would conventionally called “taste” refreshing and something I have always admired heavier music and Metal in particular. I have always thought that genres like Metal that exist far away from the mainstream have often attracted the most open minded musicians and audiences. Heavier music has consistently pioneered new technology, namely: distortion, seven string guitars, larger drum kits and many other innovations. Of course, it must be pointed out that amongst Metal fans there are certainly a fair share of idiots too.

On this CD Blind Guardian utilize an impressive instrumentation that includes bag pipes and church bells. These elements combined with the usual rock instruments create a interesting combination or archaic and new. One minor complaint I have is that on the 2011/2012 remixed version I am listening to the vocals are at times lost under cacophony of guitars and drums. Also, as is often the case at in Metal the bass is often inaudible as so much low end in present in the guitar and drum sounds. Overall, I really enjoyed Somewhere Far Beyond and will certainly be listening to it again in the future.

Next is the soundtrack from the third season of Battle Star Galatica.

I remember enjoying the show just after I had graduated from University it was fun to revisit this chapter in my life via this album. It has much in common with my previous choice as again there is unusual instrumentation: Japanese drums, strings and a variety of wind instruments are all used by the composer Bear McCreary to great effect. The most notable track is probably the heavily modified version of All Along The Watchtower McCreary’s treatment of this classic song gives it a fresh eastern flavor. I also like the very unhendrix solo at the end of the song, there is no slavish tribute here. Further, the use of strings on this album avoids cinematic cliché, the strings do not dominated the soundscape plenty of room is left for the other instruments to shine. However, is the creative use of percussion that sets this soundtrack apart from generic sounding rivals. That said, there are moments on this CD that remind me of every film that has ever been made that has American soldiers exploring a war zone somewhere in the middle east. This is the only real criticism I have to offer.

Aside from this minor the flaw the album is full of powerful (at times demented) emotional highs especially on Storming New Caprica. By contrast, there are also many tender moments too, an example being the celtic sounding Admiral and Commander.

It was a great surprise when I discovered the new TV series having only known the very kitsch original. The soundtrack was an inseparable part the new aggressive direction the new version took the basic ideas of Battle Star Galatica. I think this CD is enjoyable to listen to even if you have never watched the show. This is a testament to the strength of the music it is not merely background padding for the action on-screen, it stands by itself. Having enjoyed this soundtrack so much I am eager to check out what else Ben McCreary has done.

Recently I have been taking a trip to the past and revisiting some past favorites. One of these being Vicarious by Tool:

I have previously written about Tool’s most recent and lackluster effort Vicarious is such strong and powerful track it is hard to believe that the same band that wrote this had anything to do with Fear Inoculum. Vicarious is a study in songwriting each section flows seamlessly into the next. With great patience Tool build the musical tension gradually approaching a fierce climax. The lyrics confessing any addiction to other peoples suffering that does not just reflect on the individual but a society fed a constant stream of news that mostly consists in suffering of one form or another. There is something clinical and pornographic in the way the news is served up to us without remorse, without anything being left to the imagination. In some cases perhaps this can justified as it may spur people to action against injustice. But does not the constant stream of media which we are bombarded with also cast a spell of passivity over the viewer. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno expressed this idea in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception where they reflect that one of purposes of mass media in America, one of them being, to keep the population in a state of perpetual distraction and stupefied compliance.

On the other hand, surely being uninformed can equally engender a state of passivity? As surely one cannot change what one is ignorant of? Perhaps what is to be avoided is what the sentimentalist philosopher Martin Heidegger called “idle talk” in which topics are discussed according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “…in a critically unexamined and unexamining way about facts and information while failing to use language to reveal their relevance…”. When we fall into this mode of discourse that is shallow and lacking in authenticity.

Returning to the music, I think writing these post has taught me is that there is always more to discover and enjoy. I look forward to more musical adventures in 2021.