". . . deceptively catchy, hypnotically growling, post-Velvets grooves."
New York Music Daily (Feb. 2014)
"The Heroes of Toolik are a New York City band who have been recording songs and releasing albums since 2010—but they more resemble a New York band from the 1980s, with all the confidence, unpredictability, and versatility. They have, on their forthcoming studio album Like Night, a remarkable rhythm section, the kind of rhythm section that people who care about rock and roll bands dream about, namely Billy Ficca (of Television) on drums, and Ernie Brooks (of the Modern Lovers) on bass. As you can imagine from the pedigree, the album that results is crisp and remarkably tight.
But the melody section, which consists here of guitar, violin, and trombone, is just as sparkling. Arad Evans, who like Ficca and Brooks, seems to have played with everyone of note in New York in the last few decades, is a truly inventive and surprising guitar player, his solos with a sort of sinewy and serpentine quality that might distantly be related to the excellent Nels Cline, but with a little Richard Lloyd or Robert Quine mixed in. And Jennifer Coates (who is a great painter, too), plays a sort of Old Time violin that somehow rises up in the stew of influences here to seem ominous, sad, and elegiac. There’s also a trombone player on Like Night. The position seems to have been variously occupied over the years, and is presently held by John Speck, but Peter Zummo (once of the Lounge Lizards) also appears on the finished recording.
The songs of Like Night, as with Toolik recordings past (notably Aquarium School), are all over the place. They are upbeat and crisp, and they are adventurous and strange. The lyrics, uniformly, are excellent, allusive, avoidant of romantic cliché, influenced perhaps by the neo-French modernism of Tom Verlaine or the cut-ups of Bowie, or the elusive lines of middle-period Talking Heads.
Everywhere there is sterling musicianship, of the
original, unexpected sort.
Why do this sort of thing now? Why try to make a band out of stringed instruments and drums (and a little brass, and accordion) and the human voice, when most people are trying to make their music with apps? Is there still an audience for this kind of thing? For a band that has great constituent parts, and which has rehearsed itself into a condition lovely, confident, eccentric, and original? Can a band like this still exist in 2016? For me, the metaphor for Heroes of Toolik is that term that one hears a lot about in the visual arts world these days, and that is “social practice.” Heroes of Toolik exists in order to be collaborative, to be a bunch of musicians bent on playing together, and in a way this signifies, for a bunch of adults, a commitment to an idea of music-making, an idea of music as a practice among people. If the songs on Like Night are often filled with moments of the wistful or even sad, the project, the musicians playing together and performing together, is the treatment for what ails.
(Rick Moody, The Rumpus Aug. 25, 2016) (http://therumpus.net/2016/08/swinging-modern-sounds-74-a-social-practice/
“As a collective, Heroes of Toolik are a troth between legendary musicians of the past 45 years of the New York avant-garde. Featuring guitarist/vocalist Arad Evans (Glenn Branca Ensemble), guitarist Robert Poss (Rhys Chatham, Band of Susans), bassist Ernie Brooks (The Modern Lovers/David Johansen/Arthur Russell/Gary Lucas/Rhys Chatham), and Billy Ficca, drummer of Television and Neon Boys, the group seems to hide in plain slight; lords of the underground. A rollicking carnivalesque experience, Heroes of Toolik stretch out into the horizon without sacrificing a tight grooving grip — an explorative scat of minimalist blues, rock & roll, psychedelic pop, orchestral folk, gothic bluegrass, and theatrical art-punk. Piercing moments of noise and pillows of rustic jazz find home on the same disc, existing in bountiful harmony. This focused yet spacious eclecticism reaches mastery on their forthcoming sophomore LP, Like Night, due out in August.
Produced by Wharton Tiers (Sonic Youth, New York Dolls, etc.), and recorded at Seaside Lounge and The Silent Barn in Brooklyn, the record captures strange magic in a bottle, thanks in no small part to the major contributions of trombonist John Speck and vocalist/violinist Jennifer Coates, whose performances on album highlights “Warm,” “Say Virginia,” and “Again” are breathtaking and bighearted. With an unaffected empathy, sentimental warmth, and daring compositional forms, bassist Ernie Brook’s involvement in Arthur Russell’s pivotal 1986 lp World of Echo really shines through on moments like these.
As a whole, Like Night exudes an aura of long summer nights, one of fireflies, transience and echoes – and nowhere so profoundly as on album closer “You Will Not Follow” whose luminous and misty tenor provides a hazy setting for Coates’ harmonic and austere, gazing commands, melting into the rich, sinuous wash amongst her brothers in arms. Heroes marching into the unknown.
Chad Depasquale, Aquarium Drunkard 6/20/16) (http://www.aquariumdrunkard.com/2016/06/20/heroes-of-toolik-like-night/
"Called, not unreasonably, “Perfect,” the track swings forward with an understated intensity that for the life of us sounds like an errant Dire Straits deciding to go off in the much more interesting direction of a somehow brightly saturnine Velvet Underground. One hears wisps of Luna, a touch of Rico brass, and a loping easygoing glee that wouldn’t be out of place on a later-period Feelies album. But that’s us. You’ll hear what you’ll hear which may be entirely at odds with that description but we’re betting whatever it is will hit the same level of sweet-spot groove as it did for us. . . . Sit back (or maybe sway about the room in a bit of smiling bliss; whatever works) and let this particular slice of perfection just sliiiiide on over you."
(Dave Cantrell, Stereo Embers Magazine Aug. 2016) (http://stereoembersmagazine.com/exclusive-stereo-embers-video-premier-perfect-avant-pop-supergroup-heroes-toolik/
The first track on the new Heroes of Toolik record is titled “Perfect” and appropriately so, as Like Night is a flawless display of refined musicianship and instrumental grace. The band is a collection of extraordinary talents with astonishing resumes. If you do not know who Arad Evans, Ernie Brooks, or Billy Ficca is, stop trimming your hipster beard and do some research! The core of the Heroes are individuals who defined post-punk, but I am willing to bet that they are not interested in stories about their luminous pasts, especially as Like Night aims to rework contemporary rock. The expansive guitar work woven into the otherwise dream-like atmosphere of “8 Miles” makes the track instantly mesmerizing. Jennifer Coates’ vocals are heartbreakingly beautiful and the song drifts effortlessly, enveloping the listener in an embrace that is somehow both comforting and menacing. John Speck’s trombone nicely accents the creative pop hooks on “Something Like Night” as Coates again demonstrates her storied vocal prowess. A second ideally titled track, “Warm”, hears Speck shine brilliantly as the expanse of the panoramic instrumental opens before the listener. The concluding two minutes of the song introduces a shift in tempo that gives the illusion of being two songs within one. The jazz-inspired swing of “Blind Man” is a highlight, along with the subtle Americana flavoring sprinkled throughout “Say Virginia”. With all due respect to the sincerity one hears within Evans’ voice, I am partial to the stunning harmony of Coates’ contributions on “Again”, as she places the song on her shoulders and carries it on top of a lush tableau constructed by Speck. Coates and Evans share the responsibilities on “Crazy Doll” as two master storytellers weave a captivating tale while gentle guitar acrobatics and ghostly horns cascade about them. The closing “You Will Not Follow” begins with fragile chimes that give way to a work of complex, multi-layered pop. The effort starts and stops several times, including a reintroduction of the chimes that portray a delicate vulnerability that, like all of Like Night, can only be performed by remarkable players at the height of their mastery.
(Rich Quinlan, Jersey Beat 9/16) (http://www.jerseybeat.com/quinlan-chronicles.html)
“This the strange dream that you just can’t quite shake. It is quite pleasant but it seems quite illogical unless you can figure out some of the internal logic at work. Heroes of Toolik is like this with its mix of laid back lounge style featuring plenty of trombone with quirky pop moves and out and out psychedelic passages. If it were not so light and fun, it would be downright eerie. In fact, it is even eerier because of that if I stay on this too long. Strange, strange band, yet they are so agreeable to the ear. This is one you should try out for yourself. You may have a different take entirely. But I plan on spinning this many more times.
David Hintz, DC Rocks Live 8/1/16) (http://dcrocklive.blogspot.com/
“Heroes of Toolik, an NYC based super group, are on the verge of releasing their second full length LP in August. In anticipation of that release, they’ve put out a single that shows off their avant-garde folk pop style. “Perfect,” which you can listen to below, is a nice blend of avant garde folk pop which orchestral influences. The vocals are a bit unconventional, almost like a bit of poetry in the verses, but then they remind me a bit of Belle & Sebastian in the harmonious choruses. And it’s impossible to ignore that nice string presence in the mix that adds an extra layer to the song.
Nicole Baumann, Austin Town Hall 6/27/16) (http://austintownhall.com/2016/06/27/a-little-folksy-pop-from-heroes-of-toolik/
It is rare for a band to release a two-song single and have so much happening within each track, but not many bands are like Heroes of Toolik. This is an act that treats the accordion as a pivotal aspect of their sound and not something used for clever accents, and engages in shared male/female vocals with a sense of powerful urgency and simmering sensuality. “Aquarium School” is driven by trombone and the aforementioned accordion while vocalist Arad Evans delivers a subtlety sarcastic take on conformity through deliciously deadpan vocals backed up by the hauntingly beautiful voice of violinist Jennifer Coates. It is a song that demands multiple plays, not only for the unique idiosyncrasies of the structure, but the song becomes increasingly infectious with each listen. . . Heroes of Toolik only continue to elevate the quality of their work, and this is a tempting sample of what is to come.
The A-side sets guitarist/frontman Arad Evans’ cool, nonchalant vocal to a catchy, rising riff colored with Jennifer Coates’ violin, Ted Ferguson’s accordion and ex-Lounge Lizard Peter Zummo’s soulful, lingering trombone: it wouldn’t be out of place on REM’s Chronic Town, but with a more lush, interesting arrangement than anything on that album.
New York Music Daily (7/18/14)
Heroes of Toolik is a band that hasn't been on my radar before, and I can't imagine why, given its heritage. But it's there now, for keeps, and should be on your radar too.
Steven Marsh, You Will Miss Me (March 13, 2015)
Talk about pedigree: the credits on this new song and video by NY/NJ-based Heroes of Toolik is like a Who's Who of underground music. . . . All of which might well lead you to expect something other than the mellow, whimsical, folk-rock delight that is 'Aquarium School' -- but hey, life is like that.
The Big Takeover (7/1/14)
Heroes of Toolik are an art rock band from the New York/New Jersey area comprised of veteran players – Peter Zummo (trombone) is an avant jazzer (ex-Lounge Lizards), while Arad Evans (guitar/vocals) has toured with avant-noise luminaries Rhys Chatham and is a current member of the Glenn Branca Ensemble. Ernie Brooks (bass) was in the original Modern Lovers, while Jennifer Coates (violin/vocals) is an accomplished old style country fiddler with her own band, Jenny Gets Around. What comes together among the group of them is a brand of well-informed rock n’ roll that draws on these influences without over-complicating itself. . . . The band performs with the cohesive, relaxed vibe you’d expect of accomplished musicians, and the stylistic palette of these tunes reflected artists from the Velvet Underground to Zappa and Beefheart to hints (for me) of the Grateful Dead.
NYC Taper (8/28/14)
Like Night is the second full-length release, and it's bound to be a hit with critics and fans of the underground. A far cry from commercial music in 2016, these songs combine progressive pop and rock threads from the 1970s right on through to the present. Because these musicians are playing an eclectic style of music that doesn't easily fit in today's landscape, coming up with similar artists for comparison is difficult. We'd love to be a fly on the wall when this band plays around New York, because we can only imagine who might be in attendance. Cool free flowing modern pop with an overall spontaneous sound and feel. Nine intriguing reflective cuts including "Perfect," "Warm," "Say Virginia," and "You Will Not Follow."
Strong guitar riffs, a chill drumbeat and that boisterous brass section rearing its head gives Winter Moon that glow a moon should have.
Roz Smith, The Aquarian
The vocals have sort of a Jim Morrison quality to them, with that relaxed, easy, deep sort of sound. “F String” has a cool sound of Talking Heads crossed with groovy 60s music. . . . “Yellow-Haired Sea” is a gorgeous track featuring interplay between acoustic and electric guitar. It’s an instrumental, slow, lazy sort of song, like you would listen to on a rainy Sunday morning or something.
Paul Silver, Jersey Beat
The gang from Heroes Of Toolik have released a new CD called Winter Moon, and the disc showcases everything we love about the Heroes Of Toolik. The songs “F-String,” “Young Venus,” and the track that already garnered them some airplay, “Yellow-Haired Sea,” are all easy on the ears. In other Heroes news, they’ve recently added a violin player to the band, and her name is Jennifer Coates.
Tim Louie, The Aquarian