Review Summary: “Maybe a soundless rapture that distorts the form”
For those unfamiliar with Kayo Dot, I won’t waste much time trying to introduce what they do - greater men than I have tried and failed to explain their sound and what it conveys through words – but let’s just say that their first two albums showcase a highly complex, experimental blend of rock instrumentation with classical songwriting, assisted by a plethora of instruments. Their legendary debut, Choirs of the Eye
, is a magnificent display of cohesive and original songwriting executed in a beautifully cohesive manner, but it is rather hard to describe accurately past that due to its ability to transcend objectivity. You could say that it’s a masterpiece, a symphony, a revolution, a sonic embodiment of your soul or the meaning of life – it doesn’t matter, because the first statement holds true for all of those statements. Their follow-up, Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue
(possibly the strangest, most wonderful title that Toby Driver had come up with at the time of release, which is really saying something; it has later been surpassed by Rite of Goethic Invocation
) is just as strange and unfamiliar, but it is also somewhat easier to pin down: it is just as much a work of drama as it is a piece of music.
The songs on Choirs
flowed together naturally and felt like different movements a single composition; the songs here are self-contained to the extent that they avoid the absolute cohesion of Choirs
, but the album is structured in such a way as to sound convincing as a whole, and as a result they feel like different acts rather than separate movements. This is achieved largely through a sense of contrast and spontaneity that wasn’t really present before, and an exaggerated, theatrical feeling found in both composition and performance. An example of this is the contrast between the build-ups in The Antique
and Aura On an Asylum Wall
: The Antique
felt like something massive was going to happen and it really took its time to get there, evolving subtly and taking so long to gain momentum that it is almost possible to listen to the whole of Aura
before the main part of the song starts; it was a fluid, natural process. On the other hand, the build-up in the second half of Aura
feels much more like a deliberately engineered progression. This does not mean that it sounds overly contrived, but that the playful chord pattern, the gracefully upbeat violin line, and the rhythmic urgency (the shift from 6/8 to 5/8 catalyses the development of the song very effectively) all make it seem as though Driver wants to explicitly tell the listener that he is in the middle of a build-up. The difference between the two is the same as that between a man who spills a cup of hot coffee on his shirt and an actor miming the same action: the man will swear and respond in a resigned, everyday manner, but the actor will leap to his feet and gesture wildly, emphasising every action. This dramatic sense of exaggeration is ongoing throughout the album and is part of what defines it.
So, Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue
is a theatrical performance, a play. But, one might ask oneself, what kind of play is it? Well, this is a somewhat trickier question to answer. I will not analyse the lyrics closely, since they are obscure enough to be hopelessly misinterpreted, thus spelling doom for an informative review – indeed, I will have to speculate somewhat and take a rather personal approach to provide any kind of answer – but by the time I’m done, you should have a decent understanding of Dowsing’s
Gemini Becoming the Tripod
opens majestically, introducing the album with a few quiet chords, followed by a powerful crescendo that is a perfect example of the aforementioned sense of drama. What happens next is a long, almost painfully strained section that morphs into a chaotic mess of heavy instrumentation which becomes more and more frantic, before suddenly coming to a halt and fading away. Immortelle and Paper Caravelle
is an extremely beautiful, slow song that is largely based on near-silence, swelling into a single verse (in which the theatrical aspects are maintained, thanks to a soothing trumpet part) before fading away as soon as it has climaxed and drifting on for a few minutes. Aura on an Asylum Wall
opens with a single, tribal verse before moving via a strange sequence of violin-and-trumpet-driven meandering to the build-up I mentioned earlier, which does not lead to a magnificent climax, but rather to a bass-orientated grind section that seems completely out of place with the rest of the song. So, we have three songs that each sound unique, but are still work together very effectively. However, it is not until hearing the penultimate track that one can really understand what the album is about.
___On Limpid Form
is an absolute monster of a track, clocking it in at eighteen minutes. It begins with six minutes that come closer than anything else on the album to resembling a regular song. An ominous feeling of dream and apprehension is present throughout and – as it breaks spectacularly into solo – one gets the familiar feeling that it is building up to something awe-inspiring. Then, as the solo ends and all becomes quiet, just when the feeling of an incoming climax is greatest…
…the song takes a complete U-turn and turns into an extended breakdown composed of sustained chords, feedback and bizarre drumming that lasts twelve minutes and eventually loses all tonality. Opinions of this volte-face regardless (I personally find it mesmerising), it reveals exactly what the purpose of the album is (interestingly enough, ‘limpid’ is and adjective used to describe clarity); it represents a contrast between evolution and devolution. Each song seems to depict to two in conflict, starting with Gemini
, which is tightly focused until the last few minutes of chaos, and meandering more and more as it goes on, culminating with the twelve minutes of unfocused noise in ___On Limpid Form
. The theatrical feel of the album ties in nicely, since it gives the listener a sense of what they should expect, making it even more effective when they do the opposite (the contrast between the build and the breakdown in Aura
is one of the best examples of this). Anyway, since the album is a struggle between the focused and the meandering and an exploration of devolution, what could possibly happen after ___On Limpid Form
, which seems to have devolved as far as any song possible could?
The answer is, perhaps unexpectedly, peace. Closer Amaranth the Peddler
completely lacks the contrast of the previous songs and is composed entirely of the vague, unfocused sound of the album. However, there is no chaos or outright devolution; it simply drifts along blissfully for almost a quarter of an hour. There is no structure, only quiet chords, the odd drum fill and a feeling of tranquil ambience created from Mia Matsumiya’s violin playing. A verse appears for a while, sounding completely relaxed and at ease, before disappearing as the song returns to cruising along at its own pace. Its lethargy conveys contentment and harmony so effectively that I have fallen asleep to it several times, late at night; its sense of complete detachment from everything mundane is wonderfully soothing.
So, there you have it; Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue
, as I see it, is the story of being unable to decide between order or chaos, ascension or descension, the expected or the unexpected, and the peace that results from making a decision. It is wonderfully beautiful in places, and dramatic and intimidating in others but what matters most is that it works absolutely fantastic as a whole. I recommend it to anyone with an open mind.
Fun fact: flower imagery occurs throughout the album (an orchid is mentioned in Gemini, Immortelle and Amaranth are both flowers that symbolise eternity and – of course – there is the artwork (which, I think, is an Immortelle). I won’t speculate here over what relevance this may have, in combination with the lyrics, to a potential overall concept, but it is still intriguing.