Review Summary: While the music on the album is slightly above average, Part the Second featuring a surprisingly lazy and dumbfounded Toby Driver trying his best to recall what exactly motW even was, and instead creating a trite and pretentious Kayo Dot replica.
I have never been more pissed off at an album made by a band I liked. Not even The Human Abstract's Midheaven, which was so pretentious and so self-absorbed, I couldn't care about it enough to write a review. That's how much I hated it. It's not that it's bad, but it's that the album is completely UN-reminiscent of MoTW.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You think that I'm completely unjustified in saying that this album is horrible and that this album isn't the least bit reminiscent of the MoTW we've all come to know and love. Well, allow me the opportunity to explain why this album isn't as epically great as everyone thinks it is. Just let me at least entertain you with my utter hatred for this album.
Well, the truth is I don't really think the album is that bad. If I'm being fair, I'd even go as far as to say that it is a great album. But that doesn't detract from what I said about me hating this album. The problem I have with the album is that it is nothing like the MoTW I liked (and by that, I mean everything they've made before this freaking album).
Alright, I'll be blunt with you. I didn't fall in love with the music of Maudlin of the Well until a couple days ago. In fact, to be honest, I had to listen to Bath three times before saying that I even tolerated it, let alone loved it. It wasn't until I listened to both Bath and Leaving Your Body Map in constant succession that I truly understood both albums and instantly fell in love with them. I even listened to their previous album before that, and I liked it. This band is easily the most thought-provoking, most experimental, and most diverse metal band I've listened to. As for Kayo Dot, Toby Driver's succeeding project (or as most idiotic MoTW fans say, MoTW with a name change), I have yet to listen to their best albums in their entirety, but in skimming through the songs in their first three albums (yes I know it's bad way to get the gist of an avant-metal band, shut up), I can see some similarities between them and MoTW, but when I listen to Kayo Dot, I damn well know I'm listening to Kayo Dot, and the same thing goes for MoTW, and that's not just because I know MoTW's discography. Kayo Dot focuses mainly on atmosphere and emotion, while MoTW focused on...well, nothing really. One of the things people like about MoTW is their lack of linear musical direction. One song section can be one genre, another can be one entirely different. They were completely unexpected, and sometimes songs lacked cohesion. This is one thing I never minded about Maudlin of the Well. What I liked about them was their unrestrained and complete rawness in their experimentation that exuded from every single song they've made. In short, they didn't just push the envelope, they destroyed the ***ing mailbox. They could be sad, mournful, and saccharine, but they could also be so aggressive that if anyone were ever as angry as some of MoTW's angrier portions, I'd be surprised if there wasn't bloodshed within 30 seconds.
Now, you're wondering, if I loved MoTW so much, why don't I like this one? Well, I don't like it because it's nothing like the MoTW I liked. Part the Second features Toby Drive reinterpreting MoTW and making an entire album around that interpretation to assuage the fans' desires for new music by them. I have to say, if this is Toby Driver's interpretation of the music HE wrote with the band
HE formed, then I have to ask the question: does he hate MoTW? Nothing in this album resembles MoTW's sound in any way. Saying that it's Driver's reinterpretation may have come off as very hopeful to most fans, and believe me, me before I listened to the album, but after one listen, looking back at it, it comes off as a cruel joke, and a rather stinging insult. Let me explain why and how.
The album has a lot of sweet moments. And by that, I mean the album is completely sweet and soothing. Imagine If These Trees Could Talk and Kayo Dot...sorry, scratch that. Listen to If These Trees Could Trees Could Talk and Kayo Dot, and then listen to this album. This album sounds like a reinterpretation of those artists rather than Maudlin of the Well, and understand that never in any respect, in my entire ***ing life span, in my physical or astral body, was I prepared to say that about Maudlin of the Well, especially about their comeback album that came eight years after their magna opera.
Speaking of which, did anybody picture this after eight years? Ever?! A band that was at one point considered so unpredictable in style that it was an insult to generalize them as simply progressive metal?! Did anyone picture this band making such a linear album as this? Seriously, I pictured Toby Driver presenting the concept for this album to the rest of MoTW, oh wait, sorry, Maudlin of the Well plus the current members of Kayo Dot as guest musicians that end up being prominent throughout the entire ***ing album, as something ridiculously presented as being the opposite of MoTW's original direction in music. Something like,”Diversity? Unpredictability? *** that noise! How 'bout we take everything about Maudlin that people liked, and flush it down the toilet. Oh, don't worry. I've got my copy of Above The Earth, Below The Sky and the rest of my band mates from Kayo Dot that I didn't fire at the studio. Don't worry, I've written all the music already, so you just have to record and move on with your unsuccessful lives while I continue my successfully prolific musical career.” That may sound utterly ridiculous, but that's the only way I picture the way this album came to be.
I know it sounds like I'm just riffing about the fact that this album sounds nothing like MoTW, but what about the actual music? The music is fine, for the most part, even though it has its share of disappointments. The band, or Driver, I should say, opted for a more orchestral approach to this supposed “reinterpretation”. This comes off to me as being utterly Kayo Dot-centered, considering the fact that the orchestral sections of the album (the strings, piano, and synths) are handled by Driver and three of Kayo Dot's current members. Remember the days when Bath and Leaving Your Body Map had almost every member of the band credited with vocals? Yeah, well now, Driver holds the sole vocal credit on the album, and the Maudlin members now hold credits for ONLY guitars and drums.
Lack of diversity is something that I didn't address clearly at first. There is some diversity in this album, but not in the good way. I remember listening to Bath, and saying to myself jokingly that the shifts in the music within songs came so abruptly that it was like they wrote riffs, recorded each one separately, and cut and paste the tracks in Audacity or Pro Tools. The reason I was joking was because 1) from what I understand, the Bath/LYBM wasn't just inspired by astral projection, they were written using astral projection. Through exploration through the astral plane, they were trying to recreate the music they found in the astral world. Whether you believe that or not, it seems the band was trying to piece together the music rather than trying to write it all, and they succeeded in making magically brilliant music, making it justified. And 2) I didn't think they were that lazy in trying to call something like that progressive. But now, that statement is true. The more aggressive parts (stretching the term “aggressive” beyond its stretching point) sound phoned in and cut directly from a separate track in GarageBand or Pro Tools. I know there can't be much aggression as the original unclean vocalist did not come back for this album, but the anger behind all of MoTW's work was in guitar, and to be honest, they don't even sound remotely like they did before. It's almost as if the guitars were handled by someone else, if you catch my drift.
Not only that, but the genres covered on this album are the ones that you don't want to hear from MoTW. These include pop rock, post-rock, jazz and, and I'm not kidding here, funk. Clover Garland Island begins with a dissonant minute of the same chord progression, but not in an angry hard-hitting fashion like you'd expect from Maudlin (more like in the fashion of Captain Beefheart with downtuned guitar, heavier bass, and even more minimalistic drumming), and then proceeds to ripping off Funkadelic and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the guitar effects used during all this mimics Buckethead, with some more sappy orchestral work, and some riffing reminiscent of Kayo Dot if they ripped off Dredg and If These Trees Could Talk. The last track, to be fair, starts out in an angry Maudlin-fashion, which is what I was hoping for by the end, but eventually the anger turns from Maudlin-style anger to the anger you'd find in bands like Mayday Parade, You Me At Six, and Blink-182.
At the point of Clover Garland Island,, my anger levels were higher than they have ever been, and if you know anything about me, it's that it takes a lot to make them get there. I was so angry I almost cried, but what kept me from tearing up was the hope that the last track on the album would give me some intimation that somehow, Toby Driver realized his mistakes and give fans what they really wanted: old fashioned unpredictable Maudlin of the Well, but no. He proceeds to think that Maudlin fans are expecting this sound that he just started building upon while he was writing music for Kayo Dot. Hell, even that sentence seems like a stretch. Kayo Dot has at least some of the unpredictability factor Maudlin once had.
What really gets under my skin is the lyrics. They are Maudlin-style lyrics but in the worst way possible. Imagine a five year old trying to reinterpret John Donne and Henry Vaughan, but can only understand some of it and can only recollect fragments of it, and just said screw it and tried reinterpreting it anyway. It completely misses the point of their works, reinterprets them in the shallowest way possible, and , last but not least, it's irritating as all hell. That's what this album represents for me: Toby Driver trying his best to recollect the lyrics he “found” in the astral realm, and imbue them with the pretense that we'll interpret them as Maudlin of the Well's signature blank verse style poetry. It's like Driver completely forgot what inspired the lyrics, what the lyrics were saying, and why he wrote the lyrics that was present in each of Maudlin's albums. The lyrics here tell no story. I understand that the lyrics to Bath and Leaving Your Body Map didn't tell exactly tell stories, but they weren't supposed to. Here, they are. It's so obvious that these song lyrics are supposed to be telling stories, but none of the lyrics make the stories come together. They just pile onto each other like a pretentious asshole trying to make an album based around one concept: dreaming. The entire album's lyrical spectrum consists entirely of free-form ideas that cross every single thing people think about when they think of dreams: rainbows, clouds, pillows, mountains, strange creatures, and, Driver's personal favorite, personification of ideas (colors, purpose, months, etc.), all while using the most pretentious speech ever, in which Driver uses esoteric words like “Saturnine” and “missive” in a way where Driver sounds like he doesn't know what they mean, so he puts them in broad sentences so that the words sound like they have meaning. With Maudlin and even Kayo Dot, I wouldn't mind if the sentences made actual sense, but here, in knowing the definitions, they don't have any meaning. It's just Driver trying to sound artsy and intelligent, but failing completely.
So, there you go. Now you know why I hate this album. It's Toby Driver being pretentious, with the former Maudlin of the Well band mates playing second fiddle to this derivative and predictable dribble. The band shows no element of originality or personality that gained them a following, it's just Toby Driver and Kayo Dot trying to remake the interludes to Bath/LYBM. This album sounds like a compendium of tossed-out ideas that were too choppy for Kayo Dot, too orchestral to be Tartar Lamb, too pretty to be released by Toby Driver as a solo artist, and too predictable and uninspired to be the rumored third album in Maudlin's trilogy on astral projection (which is made even more obvious by the fact that the album was released for free). This would've worked as a Kayo Dot entry, since most of their music now is atmospheric and orchestral, but not as the comeback album of one of the most aggressive and capricious bands of the century.
What bothers me the most about this album is not the album itself. No, it's the members of Sputnikmusic who are constantly saying how much this album reminds them of the original motW, when this album is clearly an uninterested Kayo Dot album somehow released under the name Maudlin of the Well. I know I'll get at least a couple of hate comments saying that because of their change in sound, this is somehow a paradox, in that because they are different and completely the opposite of Maudlin, it makes it unpredictable Maudlin, or that I simply didn't get the point of the album. No, this is Kayo Dot, plain and simple. This change in sound happened when Kayo Dot decided on a specific sound back when Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue was released with Greg Massi being the only Maudlin member left in Kayo Dot until his departure by the next album's release. If you want to hear a TRUE reinterpretation of Maudlin of the Well, I recommend Kayo Dot's Choirs of the Eye, where Kayo Dot finds itself in a transitional period between themselves and Maudlin of the Well, showing elements from both today's KD and yesterday's Maudlin of the Well, while maintaining most of Maudlin's last line-up.
For the music alone, I would've given this a 3/5. Musically, very little diversity and lyrically, no sense of sincerity or refinement on Driver's part, which is disappointing. However, giving its rich dreamlike atmosphere, slick production, full orchestral sound, and the fact that it was free, I can't say it's god awful. Nevertheless, the fact that Maudlin of the Well made this under the pretense that it was reinventing itself with far more influences and a more modern sound, and its turnout of little to nothing reminiscent of the band and its complete descent into becoming a less interesting Kayo Dot, I give this a 2. Hopefully, Driver can reinvent Maudlin in a way that he said he would, rather than building up hype by saying it as opposed to doing it.