Toy Room

Sally Tomato

Severe Recordings, 2008

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Arguably one of the most pleasing indie releases in recent years, Sally Tomato’s Toy Room is an ambitious and diverse experiment. A rock opera in four acts, it follows the life and development of Sally Tomato, drawing on familiar themes of childhood innocence, the difficult transition to adulthood, and the impact on imagination and personality that comes with it. The standout achievement of Toy Room is the manner in which it blends a rather conventional storyline with a rich and impressive mélange of songs, making for a unique listening experience.

From the opening track, one gets a sense of the band’s creative touch. The bright, crisp tone of guitarist Carlos Severe Marcelin’s introductory notes kicks off the involving “Overture,” a cosmic affair. Sally’s spoken-word narrative and gentle choruses of “In the dark there is only one light / No one can touch me here” draped in recurring vocal effects round out an opening number that instantly draws you in.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album progresses such a manner that it is near-impossible to place the songs in a generalized category. “Beyond the Stares,” Sally’s account of her childhood sanctuary in the Toy Room, is a gentle, melodic piece, almost like a lullaby. “Bad Seed” kicks off with a wonderfully smooth guitar lick and quickly settles into a catchy groove, nicely carried by some solid drumming courtesy of Eric Flint. The production of this record is quite striking by this point; each instrument packs a great deal of punch, with everything from overdubs to background effects crystal clear in the mix. The last song covering Sally’s childhood years, “No Crying Here,” expands on the vibe of the previous track quite nicely, with the jazzy character of Marcelin’s guitar and Sally’s vocals making a great pairing.

Act 2 is a markedly different affair, musically and thematically, as Sally’a life hits a downward spiral after marrying a white trash husband and being relegated to a life of trailer park living. It’s all a bit deadpan as Sally details her “personal nightmare.” Though lacking the spaciness and variety of Act 1, tracks like “Broken Machine” and “Air” are quite nice. The contrast between Sally’s pouty lyrical reflections on her situation and the upbeat music is well done.

Our main protagonist’s escape from the situation in Act 3 makes for some of the most entertaining tracks on the CD. Things take a much more rockin’ style in “Saturday Night,” while “Night Scene” has the catchiness of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” with its oddly infectious digital loops and Sally’s galloping, quirky vocals. Act 4, meanwhile, is a dreamweaving collection of songs highlighted by the nine-minutes long “Crowded,” which effectively captures the sense of imagination and unreality associated with childhood.

Save for a spoken narrative that occasionally interrupts the flow of the songs, this is an exceptionally well-crafted album. With its rich array of sounds, sparkling production, and fresh take on old themes, Toy Room is an immensely satisfying work.

Rating: A-

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