Review Summary: With "Coyote", we find kayo Dot struggling to remain musically relevant....
I make it a habit to walk/run everyday in the little town I live in. More for exercise than enjoyment however, it has become something I just simply do. Now, my hometown with a population of 2,000 is nice, but lacking in interest as far as a runner would be concerned. Literally, the town consists of a stoplight and two intersecting streets. Some trees, a store, and some houses. So to say there isn’t much to see or do on these runs would be an understatement. Whilst walking through my town and listening to Kayo Dot’s "Coyote" I realized something: I couldn’t have been listening to a more fitting album.
What is meant by that statement is that "Coyote" is bombastically, epically, and unabashedly boring. At nearly 40 minutes, "Coyote" manages to be both inoffensive and completely harmless. While it is overall very dense, moody, and completely weird, per the usual, Kayo Dot have managed to create an album lacking any real intrigue. Which is a real shame considering the concept behind the album. Conceptually, "Coyote" is a long-form composition detailing the final days of the band’s close friend Yuko Sueta. "Coyote" was originally intended to be played to a film created by Sueta, but she tragically fell ill to breast cancer and passed. Thus, the band dedicated the album to her. To assist in the narrative, the band created a new genre called “gothic-fusion.” Drawing inspirations from The Cure, as well as other bands, the “gothic fusion” sound certainly helps the moodiness of the narrative, but does little for the overall sound. This “goth-fusion” sound just is not a good fit for the band, and really detracts from the long-form composition as a whole.
While on paper, "Coyote"’s concept is both incredibly riveting and emotionally moving. Were it handled better, it could have brought a grown man to tears. However, that powerful concept is translated very poorly into the actual music. The lyrics lack poetic flow and beauty, and have almost no eloquence to them at all. Luckily, "Coyote" is largely an instrumental affair, consisting of large interludes and small vocal portions. What could have been a dark and somber atmosphere, has become something more along the lines of weird and creepy. It really doesn’t translate a someone’s final days, but rather a wild fever dream, or a decent into madness. And that is a fairly large failing with "Coyote". The music nor the lyrics translate the solid narrative at hand.
Ignoring the narrative, Kayo Dot have a few new tricks up there sleeve. Whilst not as interesting or groundbreaking as anything from "Choirs of the Eye", or "Dowsing", some portions of "Coyote" are shockingly unique. As stated previously, this album is moody, dark, and very dense. While not as heavy as previous releases, there is still a lot of atmosphere to be had. Woodwinds play a big part, while the strings and piano have really been toned down. The vocals include less falsetto, which is disappointing as the high pitched vocals have always been part of the classic Kayo Dot sound. Vocalist Toby Driver, the mastermind behind Kayo Dot and now defunct maudlin of the Well, stated that "Coyote" would be more rhythmic than any other release. And he is correct in that statement. The drums in "Coyote" are more prominent than ever, and are utilized incredibly well. There is a stronger emphasis on beats, tempo, and rhythm than ever before, and it really helps push the album along, especially during the longer stretches and interludes.
"Coyote" is comprised of five songs, songs which act more as movements than separate compositions. The opener, “Calonyction Girl” being the album’s standout. Lyrically, musically, and conceptually it’s a true knockout. It opens with a powerful violin, courtesy of Mia Matsumiya, the band’s violinist and guitarist. An unsettling duo of plucked strings and trumpet complement Driver’s tormented vocal performance. Melody is more pervasive here, and the moodier feel fits better here than anywhere else on the album. “Whisper Ineffable” and “Abyss Hinge 2” are thankfully separated by a strange guitar interlude. Were it not there, the two compositions, both very lengthy, would seemingly indiscriminately blend into each other. Both lay on the woodwinds and trumpets thickly, and both have a pulsating beat that helps keep things moving a little better.
"Coyote" is not a complete failure. While much of it may be rather tepid, the drastic change in sound is commendable. The new sound doesn’t really fit the band, but Kayo Dot have never stuck to one sound for too long, and "Coyote" is no exception. The heavier emphasis on woodwinds and brass are an nice touch, and the more rhythmic aspects are very welcome. The concept however, is sadly a complete miss. While it doesn’t do too much to actually detract from the music itself, it certainly is a disappointment. "Coyote" is a decent addition to the Kayo Dot discography despite it’s faults. It is, however, a step up from the band’s last outing. "Coyote" has definite potential to appease long time fans and newcomers alike, but it’s impossible to deny it’s glaring weaknesses.