Review Summary: For the first time in years, Kayo Dot feels musically relevant.Gamma Knife
is the latest from everyone’s favorite NYC experimental band, featuring the mastermind Toby Driver, as well as some returning members, including violinist Mia Matsumiya. For many, the band has seemingly hit a creative speed bump, with more recent releases lacking consistency and cohesion. Gamma Knife
is refreshing in that it feels a bit more well thought out, and more finely executed. It goes without saying that this album is in no way a return to Choirs of the Eye
, however, as Driver himself has stated that the band has since moved on from that sound, and is content with dabbling in other areas of the musical realm. And really, this isn’t shocking, as every single Kayo Dot release is starkly different it predecessors. Interestingly, Gamma Knife
sort of bucks that trend a bit, and sees the return of a more metal influenced sound, somewhat in the vein of maudlin of the Well. But per the usual, this is much unlike the rest of the band’s discography, standing out as wholly unique.
The album is noticeably shorter than most other Kayo Dot releases. The band made a conscious decision to cut the length in exchange for less time in between material, and it paid off in spades. That isn’t to say that Gamma Knife
is lacking, for the condensed nature of the album as made it virtually filler free, something that detracted a lot from Coyote
, as well as Blue Lambency Downward
. The three middle songs display the band’s newer, more metal influenced direction. Filled with growls and crushing guitars, they feel much in the vein of songs like “They Aren’t All Beautiful” and “_on Limpid Form.” “Rite of Goetic Revocation” is the strongest representation of Gamma Knife
, blending dense, frenetic, and menacing sounds with that certain Kayo Dot flair. But it’s the beginning and end songs that standout. “Lenthe” and the title track are much mellower, lacking any metal influence, with a large emphasis on atmosphere and minimalism. They are effective as both an introduction and an epilogue; the calm before and after the storm.
Yet as with almost every Kayo Dot release, inconsistency rears its ugly head. While much of the record is an absolute delight, the middle section sees a dip in quality. Once more the band indulges in free-jazz wankery, albeit this time with a noticeable dip in production. It sounds slightly muddled, with the three middle tracks melting into a giant blurry mess. Saxophone cries over Drivers distant and murky vocals, while the rest of the instruments vary in clarity. It doesn’t detract too much from the overall product, but when agonized and grating vocals blare over a goofy sounding wind instrument, it definitely feels like a missed opportunity at greatness.
, for all its quirks and inconsistencies, is still a pretty damn fine record. For the first time in years, Kayo Dot feels like a bankable act and a relevant one to boot. If you’ve been anxiously waiting for Choirs of the Eye pt. 2
, then you’re going to have to keep waiting. But for those who’ve embraced the band-eccentricities and all-then Gamma Knife
will be a very welcome addition to the Kayo Dot discography.