Review Summary: Choo Choo! All aboard the Kayo Dot Express.
So here we have it, Kayo Dot’s “Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue”; the little engine that could. Right now, some of you are probably re-reading that analogy, thinking it to be completely ridiculous. I mean, sure Sigur Ros are like a glacier, and Godspeed You Black Emperor are the soundtrack to the apocalypse (or is that Soulja Boy?). But Kayo Dot as the little engine that could, surely I can’t be serious. Well as Leslie Neilson put it, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” Kayo Dot are the type of band that require a ton of patience to listen to. This, their second album, arguably requires the most patience of any album by the band. This is why “Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue” is the little engine that could: it initially seems to float around, not going anywhere, but eventually you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It comes down to composition, but what else is new with a Toby Driver helmed project. Whereas “Choirs of the Eye” built towards something, much of “Dowsing” seems to float around and fade into obscurity upon first listen. Things start off brisk with a heavy opening to “Gemini Becoming the Tripod”, complete with a swinging violin part compliments of violinist Mia Matsumiya. However, instead of reaching a massive climax, the listener finds themselves in a long stretch of dissonance and deconstruction. At first I found the vocal experimentation incredibly off putting and annoying, but upon closer dissection, I began to understand the method behind the madness. Still, depending on my mood, I can’t helped but be annoyed by the screeching and strewn about vocal passage. This style of deconstruction is a constant throughout the album. Only the genre-hopping “Aura On An Asylum Wall” breaks with this pattern. The seven minute piece with a tribal-rock, start stop dynamic that segues into a fantastic trumpet solo. A violin lead brings the song into a post-rockesque crescendo that ends with a thirty second metal assault.
Once the listener is accustomed to the compositional style, the album becomes far more enjoyable. The deconstructionism of the pieces is hard to grasp at first, but soon the subtleties begin to shine through. Like the held cello tones on the tranquil “Immortelle and Paper Caravelle”, that swoons beneath a sighing violin and gently plucked guitar. Closer “Amaranth the Peddler” follows a similar pattern the song slowly builds from a haunting beginning, to a smooth drum pattern mixed with light guitar work and a stuttering violin accompaniment. The guitars and violin the slowly bend away as the piece dissolves into nothingness to bring the album to an airy close. Considering the whole album is about deconstruction of melody and chord progression, the ending fits beautifully. The only downside to this approach by Toby Driver and co. is that it can become just slightly too tedious at times.
The 18 minute, “___On Limpid Form”, is an example of stretching things a little too far. The longest Kayo Dot song yet, and it suffers from it’s length. The song starts off with probably the best vocal performance on the album. The gothic chamber choir parts accentuate the moody guitar lines until a beautiful violin part interplays with some terrific guitar work. This gives way into an impressive short guitar solo which, as per usual, fades away, though this is probably the most interesting fade of the album. What initially sounds like random background noise, is actually a very impressive serious of high pitched trumpet slides. This segues into a long and slow dissection of the main chord progression of the piece. This section is literally a musical depiction of somebody going insane, ending with the most haunting polyrythms I have ever heard (I picture a bunch of skeletons at type writers in an abandoned factory for some reason). The only problem is the crazy section could probably be paired back by five minutes and the piece would work a lot better.
So you see, it’s the compositional style that makes me think of the little engine that could. The pieces at first seem to struggle past their initial, more melodic stages, feeling over long at times. With patience, however, the pieces begin to reveal their more structured cores. While at times the style needs to be ironed out, as with the too lengthy “___ On Limpid Form”, the album can overall be considered a success. Kayo Dot are always dependable to create something unusual, layered, intelligent and challenging, and this album is no exception. While it doesn’t quite meet the musical bliss that is the band’s debut, “Choirs of the Eye”, the album has enough great moments to ensure it’s necessity. So don’t worry, it’s safe, and rewarding to board the Kayo Dot Express. Or you know, another unnecessary train pun.