Toy Stilettos - Not Here
Not only can the wearing of high heels shorten one’s calf muscles and lead to a thicker, stiffer Achilles tendon but it also alters the center of gravity, causing pain across knees, hips and back. That said, if you’re a multi-instrumentalist with navigational urges in the trans identity sphere, these warnings may prove moot. Just ask B. Gartenberg (minding a newly professed curiosity for pumps). The artist’s orthopedist might not be thrilled, but then, he might not have listened to the record at hand. Not Here – the second serving under the Toy Stilettos moniker – releases the pressure of newfound identity via the alternating poles of euphoria and dissociation. In other words, it ain’t easy shifting genders, particularly if it leads to sciatica.
Amid crisp instrumentation and skilled production, Gartenberg crafts a welcome appetizer for audiophiles. Namely, each track exports its own branded texture. That heavy thematics color between the lines is an added indulgence. This is gin and tonic for sober poets; a compendium of pop flirtation that operates on a deeper level.
The opening track, “Not In The Mood For You” melds C&W twang with nickelodeon piano, as psychopathic vocalisms drone over both. Think of it as a perfect 1930’s kiss-off in song; the anti-Gershwin, if there existed such a genre. In a similar mode, “Sunset Baby” adopts a vampiric cadence to its intravenous groove, slow-dripping alongside string and key accompaniment. Plus, the line "counting all the chemicals you pour down the silver sink / but the estrogen is floating in my crimson drink" contains so much baggage, that charging an airline overage premium doesn’t begin to chip at the surface. And the closing “you know better than me" is crooned with such dismissal, as to wrench all emotion from its delivery. There is no act behind the curtain. This is real and raw, up front; a scab re-picked with impunity.
“Shadows on the Lake” leans menacingly toward The Handsome Family, the latter's work having been used for the True Detective season one theme. Here – trading lyrics with Lee Fenyes atop a legitimate plinking of the ivories – an undercurrent of malice slinks at arm’s (or ear’s) length.
“Fruit Flies,” on the other hand, stakes claim in tender balladry; gliding neither on sugar nor cliche, but rather, a polished trust in the helm of Stephin Merritt. Its poppy hooks are gratifyingly catchy. As are the delicate harmonies, courtesy of Jake Perla Schwartz. Likewise, “Heard Back” plays like an easy tribute to the mellower side of John Cale (who, by definition, is a difficult target to mime). Yet, the reach toward these higher quarters of art, accidental or otherwise, scores a respectful near bullseye.
Toy Stilettos taps into the equivalent of high sonic posture, a metaphorical uprightness that confronts ideas of autonomy and individualism. And while the pieces may not always join cleanly, the result is an organic work-through. In time, Gartenberg may even be strutting confidently in the band’s namesake. Small steps, heel to toe.
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