Review Summary: "Final scarlet denizens to march into the scorching fumes."
Kayo Dot. The name has become synonymous with some of the most creative, genre-bending music of this young new millennium. Like a phoenix soaring out of the ashes that was progressive metal outfit maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot released their first album, Choirs of the Eye, in 2003. Using long form compositional structures, neo-classical flourishes and post-metal crescendoes, the album is an entirely unique, progressive and complex listen. Though the album does have some flaws, overall the highs greatly outnumber the lows. Lead man Toby Driver uses his full musical knowledge to create an epic sound scape, augmented by some fantastic supporting performances; most notably Mia Matsumiya on the violin and cello. Choirs of the Eye is a phenomenal album, arguably one of the greatest of the decade.
Subtlety and dissonance are two major components of classical music. Even at its most lavish, such as in the baroque era, the best composers always had the subtle underpinnings that made their music memorable. Further towards the end of the 19th, and beginning of the 20th century, dissonance and ambiance became more important. Look no further then one of Vaughan-Williams’ fantasias, or Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Toby Driver smartly draws upon these two important factors in his compositions. After all, would the second climax in Wayfarer, with it’s shredding guitar solo, be the same without the violin melody that soars out from nowhere just before? Would the finale of The Manifold Curiosity be even remotely as spine tingling if it wasn’t proceeded by ten minutes of classical meanderings? Better yet, would the entire album be as complete without The Antique going through an extended piano outro, ending with a Picardy third that simply warms the cockles of your heart? Attention to detail, my friends, is very important, Kayo Dot know this.
Describing the actual music itself would take pages and pages. It is incredibly layered and complex, with weaving melodies, subtle (there’s that word again) electronic/synthesizer backgrounds and pounding rhythms that can switch on a dime. It takes a large number of listens to fully appreciate all that is going on. Just looking at composition and structure, it took me several listens to understand how Wayfarer is connected from the intro to the first theme to the second theme conclusion. Having only a basic knowledge of musical theory, I’m sure I still don’t fully understand exactly why it works, but my ears tell me it does. It is a similar story with the other epic stand out track, The Manifold Curiosity. Throughout the entire album, the listener is continuously surprised, even after several listens. It is this staying power that puts an album over the top. Second track, Pitcher of Summer, is around half the length of the next shortest track at almost six minutes. I still expect it to go on longer, not cutting out abruptly on that last desperate scream.
As I stated before, the album is not without it’s flaws, or rather, flaw. Opening track, Marathon, is by far the weakest effort on the album. It took me several runs through the entire album before I could at least somewhat appreciate it. Outside of the french horn solo at the beginning of the piece, the song comes off as a lesser version of The Antique. The heavy middle section is less interesting then in the Antique and the warm synthesizer tones in the second half lack the melodic beauty of the piano of the latter. Still, the piece remains important to the record, if only as a compositional complement to The Antique. Both are similarly presented; heavy opening and middle sections segue into soft endings. The major differences lie in placement of horn solos. The french horn takes a turn at the beginning of Marathon while a (heavily effected) trumpet takes a minimalist solo at the end of The Antique.
I could go on and on about various moments of brilliance in the album. The flute solo over top of sludgy distorted guitars in The Manifold Curiosity, or the horror movie violin pitches of Wayfarer. Reviews can’t go on forever unfortunately, so I end this here. Choirs of the Eye is a musical experience. It is exceptionally performed and composed without succumbing to an overly technical approach to the music. It still breathes, it isn’t overstuffed with ideas, the audience is given time to soak in the crescendoes, the climaxes the stretches of ambiance. In time, this will become a classic album. At the moment, however, certain elements (most notably the lack of interesting stuff in Marathon) keep this as an almost classic. This is an album that I recommend, whole heartedly. It is one of the best albums of this young millennium.