Review Summary: An exceptional band disappoint on their latest outing.
Kayo Dot are a very hard band to grasp. Of course being an Avant-Garde project as they are, this should not come as a surprise to any listener. The groups first two albums Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue, respectively, showcased the range of the band. Choirs shifted between neo-classical buildups, to hair raising metal climaxes; all with hints of jazz and ambience thrown into the mix. Dowsing refined the climaxes slightly, focusing more on the buildups. Both albums were fantastic in their own rights. Choirs was arguably the more raw and emotional featuring beautiful passages and gut-wrenching climaxes. Dowsing refined the sound slightly, focusing more on the build ups then the climaxes, it also featured slightly better musicianship from the auxiliary components (see the trumpet and drumming on Aura On An Asylum Wall). One criticism that could be brought up regarding the two albums is the sometimes overlong sections of ambiance and dissonance. Pieces such as Marathon from Choirs and more notably __On Limpid Form from Dowsing could have been made better with some slight editing. On Kayo Dot’s third effort, Blue Lambency Downward, the audience receives a bit of this trimming of the fat. A welcome sight perhaps, if only what was presented was more compelling.
Only two of the tracks, which book end the album, could be considered typical Kayo Dot lengths. In between the two epics are a handful of more accessible songs in terms of length. Immediately one gets the impression that the long stretches of ambiance are gone, which for the most part is true. The end of Clelia Walking and Right Hand is the One I Want dissolve into ambiance, but with the shortened lengths, these songs are more approachable. Even the longer cuts remain generally interesting musically for the entirety of their lengths. However, what came before the long stretches of ambiance in the first two albums was for the most part astonishing, making lulls approachable. The main problem with Blue Lambency Downward is that, while the long stretches of ambiance are trimmed down, the actual melodies are of a noticeably lesser grade then before.
That is not to say that the album is devoid of anything interesting. In fact there are plenty of musically compelling bits throughout the album. Mia Matsumiya turns in another fantastic performance on the violin, most notably on the end of Clelia Walking where she shows off her wonderful capabilities of crafting beautiful melodies. The jazz-lounge piano styling of Right Hand is the One I Want is something new offered from the band. While the group has dabbled in jazz tendencies before, they never fully embraced an all out jazz oriented piece quite like this. Unfortunately this song begins to sag towards the middle, it seems to not really go anywhere, the piano and drums just seem to float around, until the violin takes over. The album has plenty of good moments in it musically, in fact there are only two parts of the album that are just plain awful. The end of the title track becomes flat out annoying, mainly due to Driver’s vocals (which I will address later) and The Sow Submits is by far the worst track Kayo Dot have yet to produce. Putting disconcerting chords together on a simple pattern of quarter notes is not making the music ‘challenging’, it is making it unlistenable.
This brings me to my ultimate problem with the album, Toby Driver’s vocals. While Driver has never been the best vocalist, his abilities were sufficient for the roles of the vocals. The first two albums saw the vocals used more as an added texture. This album brings them out to the forefront. Instead of showing his emotional range that he has shown before, he opts for trying to sing in a non falsetto voice, most of the time. His singing is flat, nasale and boring. The title track suffers the most from this, the ending of the song is sung so flat and monotonous that it makes me reach for the skip button real quick. On top of this, the musicianship just isn’t as good as before. Mia and Toby are still good on their respective instruments, but the additional players, mainly the new drummer Charlie Zeleny, do not add up to the players on Choirs or Dowsing. Further more, the biggest issue musically with this album is it’s inconsistency. The audience has to sift through a lot of mediocre stuff to pull out the good bits. I understand the ‘difficultness’ of the album, but after a good six or seven full listens, it is becoming evident to me that it just is not that good.
On the positive, the album does feature some decent tracks. While Clelia Walking doesn’t meet as high as other Kayo Dot pieces, but it is still a strong work. Also, Right Hand is the One I Want is refreshing in its full on jazz-lounge mode, and The Awkward Wind Wheel is as close as Kayo Dot have ever come to a conventional rock song (though it is still a few miles away from that). Finally, the closing piece lives up to past works by the band. The horn and woodwind interplay that opens Symmetrical Arizona is very interesting and it segues into a cool, long guitar solo from Driver that is backed by a vibraphone and Mia on the violin. The song never explodes into a climax, but slowly fades out with some jazz drumming. Another thing to note on this album is it’s lack of explosive climaxes. The only song to feature noticeably distorted guitars is Clelia Walking and it is used sparingly. This may be an issue for fans of the earlier Kayo Dot, or even maudlin of the Well albums, though this reviewer doesn’t mind the lack of huge climaxes.
Overall, I applaud the attempt of further experimentation on the part of Driver. He was never going to settle into the progressive, neo-classical avant-garde/post-metal niche he had carved out on previous efforts. He opted to forgo long buildups, hair-raising climaxes and long ambient passages and focus simply on melodic and harmonic patterns. Unfortunately, these melodies and other various musical dynamics, pale in comparison to previous efforts. Also, standing alone, it is simply not a great release. Music can be challenging, yes; but ultimately you need to have something to hang your hat on. Minus a few tracks on the album, there is just very little for the listener to grab onto. That is the ultimate downfall of this disappointing album from an otherwise very creative and talented band.
well done review, pos'd though I naturally disagree with a lot of things.
the actual melodies are of a noticeably lesser grade then before.
when it comes to melodies, this might even be my favorite of the three Kayo Dot albums. This concentrates much more on melody lines than the other two imo
the additional players, mainly the new drummer Charlie Zeleny, do not add up to the players on Choirs or Dowsing
hm, that strikes me as strange. I believe Zeleny might be the best drummer they have recorded with. Though Bodie easily beats him in the life perfomances.
and then there's the typical vocals-problem. I cannot really see what should be bad about Driver's vocals, everybody keeps complaining about them but for me they're rather a plus than a minus. but I'm pretty alone with that opinion I believe.
finally, people actually comment on my reviews. I figured a Kayo Dot review would get some comments, let alone a negative Kayo Dot review. Perhaps my other reviews don't get comments cause its folk music nobody on here knows?
I'm determined to expand the jazz and folk sections on this site.
I'm pretty much into anything Toby Driver does, but I really didn't like this at all. In fact, having listened several times, there is nothing that makes me want to listen to it again and again, in order to try and "get" it. It's just really.....average, I guess.
The lyrics are terrible as well, I really missed Byron on this album.
While Driver has never been the best vocalist, his abilities were sufficient for the roles of the vocals
I don't agree with this, Toby is an exceptional vocalist. His performances on Wayfarer is pretty amazing. I think the majority of the problem relates to the lack of screaming on this, which was his primary delivery in the past two albums.
well actually, I really like the fact that there isn't any growling on this record. The growling is the only thing that usually turns me off of their other stuff, unless it's more textural (a la The Antique).
Yes, the vocals on Wayfarer are great, and that's why I said his vocals were sufficient prior to this release. Technically, he is not a great vocalist (though many singers in rock, metal, whatever aren't) I just find on this release, in comparison to the others, the vocals are really flat and poorly sung.
that's true, but Toby's a fantastic vocalist. The only problem with this album is his compositions are shit. But his maudlin stuff and the first couple kayo dot records feature beautiful, intense vocals.