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Ivan the Tolerable – Toft House Session Review

Ivan the Tolerable mark these Toft House Session as more than the name would suggest. Dragging along Neil Turpin, Robbie Major and Ben Hopkinson of raging stompers Benefits, Oli Heffernan has pushed out a studio session that relays much of the charm and bounce that comes from his records. With noise power as a fluttering foundation and avant-garde jazz clusters as the goal, Ivan the Tolerable embrace clusters of brilliance on Toft House Session. Deep within the sultry tones and heavy percussion of opening track Mothra II is something that targets the brain the same way The Waeve did on their self-titled debut. Echoing jazz numbers, brass power and the feeling it could implode at any minute. Toft House Session is always on the cusp of something. 

Finding out what that is becomes an intense journey. Toft House Session never boil over into explosions of rage or self-doubt, it is a confident piece that relies on spoken-word reverb and twinkling moments of expressive instrumentals. Mike Watt is used sparingly and intensely on The Sphere, another exceptional example of Ivan the Tolerable and session musician unity, bleeding it over into the bird chirps and soft, saxophone-led touches of Lantern Song. Kevin Branstetter pouring over the words of former Rolling Stone writer Karen Schoemer is a beautiful move, one that connects the line Ed Sheeran seems set on severing, between artist and peering, critical lens. Those lush little tones strike through with such consistency, the flowing charm of the Toft House Session is not knowing where one track starts and another ends. 

Bridging those together with fine instrumental work gives it the homely and natural feel of an endurance studio test. Of people shifting in and out of place as they work up the courage to push a new instrument, to get a lap steel or a saxophone posted to the front of a song. To invite guests in to lean in to that always-on microphone and dish out the dirt of great writers from the decades long gone. In Air is where that all comes together, the stylish pieces that sound like the end of Sunrise or The Day After the Revolution that late-stage Pulp track and the This is Hardcore album ender. Both proved defiant, wall of sound styles were alive and well. Toft House Session do not chase that, they do not need to. It comes to them.  

By their own admission, these tracks will likely never see the light of live production. This is it. A session is a session and this one is special. Jad Fair speaks over those engaging instrumentals on A Blue Sun, with all of this coming together to prove one crucial point about Ivan the Tolerable. His jack of all trades proves better than being the master of one as he shuffles his deck of sound once more. Enlisting familiar names, charting a steady course and pushing through with a percussion and brass-ready session of intimate qualities, of close appeal and of assured confidence. It is the quieter elements that make those bursts of exciting cymbal punches so strong. Well-balanced in promise and practice, Toft House Session is a defiant beast. Sonic power bursts out of Middlesbrough’s Toft House, and it is hard to hear much better from there than this.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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