Album Reviews

Ivan The Tolerable Quartet: Toft House Session

On his latest sonic journey, Oli Heffernan drafts in a raft of fine guests.

The sounds of Oli Heffernan’s Ivan The Tolerable project are always welcomed with open arms. Likened to other regulars around these parts, Matt Christensen, Mike Vest and Charlie Butler, Heffernan is another lifer who spends every waking hour tinkering with an instrument and sound to include on his next sonic endeavour.  

The latest chapter in the Ivan The Tolerable story arrives in the way of Toft House Session. Remnants of the record began at the back end of 2021, which saw Heffernan – joined by drummer Neil Turpin (Bilge Pump, Objections, All Structures Align), Robbie Major (Benefits) and pianist/saxophonist Ben Hopkinson – record an Astral session in Bristol shortly after release the Out Of Season. The recording didn’t work out, and after the quartet once again hit the South West for the 2022 Astral Festival, they later decided to record the set in Heffernan’s base in Middlesbrough.

The results are excellent. A mix of live tracks and new pieces recorded in Heffernan’s almost second home (a recording space set up within a Middlesbrough social club), and alongside his band are a swathe of guests from the underground alumni.

Beginning with Mothra II, Turpin’s tight rhythms and Hopkinson’s orbital synths and sax linger like cigarette smoke around a dimly lit bar. It’s essentially the place where noir and psychadelia join forces.

The Sphere is the first of two songs featuring Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges, Spirit of Hamlet et al). Using the words of Karen Schoemer, whose unique poetic snippets feature all the way throughout Toft House Session, Watt’s appearance is the clear highlight. His nicotine-addled, spoken-word musings mixing reality and fantasy in some street-level psychedelic experience. Over Turpin’s tumbling percussion and Heffernan’s jagged riffs, it creates a sound we’d associate with the Dirty Three’s Jim White and Mick Turner. So too later alongside underground legend Jad Fair (Half Japanese, Daniel Johnston), who delivers more of Schoemer’s vignettes of surrealism through a haze of astral jazz splendour.   

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The meditative psych of Lantern Song is like swimming in a ketamine fruit punch, and it continues on Black Ridges. Featuring Trumans Water’s Kevin Branstetter, the song’s medieval riffs and rolling cinematic synths and percussion fracture this composition into something that feels like an improv’ piece Enablers would drop during an open mic night. Just sensational.

That loose feeling continues on In Air. The title says it all, amid Hopkinson’s curling skronk, while On Leaving promotes a similar vibe, held together with krautrock-inspired rhythms and protracted Carpenter-like synths.

It’s fitting that Watt draws the curtain with History Blurs. Another of Schoemer’s earthy, nostalgic diatribes, stitching together random thoughts of the past, as Watt recounts what clouds look like outside the window, drag racing, greeting cards stuck to the front door, and the Manhattan Bridge.

It feeds into the idea of Heffernan’s sonic explorations with the project. Backed by a fantastic band, Ivan The Tolerable’s aim is to create and refine the quintessential narcotic effect. And on Toft House Session, they may have captured it to perfection. Those who have just joined the ride, fear not, as Toft House Session is a great place to start the journey.

Toft House Session is out now via Stolen Body Records.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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