Maybe the feeling I get from Toad and the Stooligans is a kind of personal nostalgia for the jam bands that provided a soundtrack for my carefree college days on the quad, watching a frisbee fly back and forth while a few grimy folks slacklined between two trees.
With just a hint of G. Love and Special Sauce–style hip-hop, plus electric piano, jammy guitars and deep bellowing bass, the Stooligans enter the Providence scene with the release of their album Very Handsome, a well-produced and unique hip-hop record with unpredictable, improvisational instrumentation that makes each track a pleasant surprise.
The Stooligans are a tight-knit group of musicians who grew up playing music together. “Dan and Mike worked at a deli together and were always rapping there,” the Stooligans drummer Matt O’Brien says. “Mike was doing solo shows, and both he and Dan were friends with [singer] Mike Slap. Slap asked them both to open a show for him at Machines with Magnets. So we put together a band for that show, and everything has kind of rolled from there.”
Toad and the Stooligans come across as more improvisational, close to the style of a jam band, but Matt points out that while the album works to capture their live sound, it is a polished piece of work and a template for onstage explorations. Very Handsome has a vintage hip-hop sound and vibe; along with the collaborative approach to the background instrumentation (with Dan “Illiterat” Pomfret on vocals and guitar, Alex Caimano on bass and Matt on drums), that sound provides a great canvass for Mike “Toad” Jencks to rhyme over. Catchy hooks, guest vocalists and unpredictable rearrangements of rhythms produce a clean sound with minimal effects, just enough to unify the eclectic styles explored in the music.