Review Summary: An astounding showcase of skill from Toby Driver's project, maudlin of the Well. Part the Second is their strongest and most creative release yet. This record shows some serious maturation; a great entry point into avant-garde rock.
With New York based avant-garde outfit “maudlin of the Well”, there is an intensely unique blend of sounds and genres. The range includes anything from black metal to art rock to chamber music. With their fourth full-length album, ”Part the Second”, the band does not disappoint. In fact, this album can arguably exceed all of its predecessors in terms of production, composition, and instrumentation.
The record is oddly accessible. Its 45-minute span is spread across five epic compositions, undoubtedly driven by motW front man Toby Driver, which take elements from their previous albums as well as material from the band’s other project, Kayo Dot. Songs on this album are primarily either guitar or piano driven, with accompaniment from a wide range of instruments, including strings and horns (classic to the band’s sound). As usual of maudlin of the Well, the least accessible element may very be Toby Driver’s vocal style. He uses a selection of various styles throughout the album, some of which may be hard to truly appreciate at first listen. The whisper-like passages in the first track, “Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000…” are difficult to swallow at first, but ultimately add to the track’s sense of haunting and mysteriousness. With Part the Second’s opener, a warm melody of strings is wisely layered over a clean guitar part, with light drums. Already, within seconds of the opening, the accessibility is made evident. Though this 2009 release is their most recent, it is an excellent entry point into the work of Toby Driver.
The heaviness of the album is often sectional in the songs. All of the pieces begin rather calmly, excluding the penultimate track, and grow heavier with time. As is customary with motW, you can expect a change in mood very quickly, sometimes without warning. Electric guitar solos overtop screeched lyrics bleed into the last track beautifully. Sometimes this proves to be their downfall, with sections that seem very unwarranted and un-organic. But with Part the Second, it seems they’ve smoothed this over. The ending of the final track couldn’t close out the album more fittingly. A driving guitar/bass melody (that’s what is sounds like, at least), with horns and strained echoes of voices in the background, builds until the heavy finish, at which the horns blare a final, haunting note. A soft piano melody reprised from the second track occupies the album’s final moments.
The lyrics themselves have always been a stand-alone topic for maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot. Often split between Toby Driver and occasional lyricist/vocalist Jason Byron, there is usually an underlying story or concept. With Part the Second, it’s difficult to tell whether the lyrics form a story. There is a definite theme of colors, shapes, and landscapes throughout the story.
“Like a stone I fell, and was engulfed in winter darkness”- “Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying”
“My secluded focus on trading shapes
I missed the room change color” – “Rose Quartz Turning to Glass”
“I was stuck on Violet, miniaturized
It was four days' walk to the blue border” – “Clover Garland Island”
The first and last tracks seem to be stand-alone ideas, at least to the common listener. “Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000” speaks of a great spirit/entity called “Dynamo” which strongly influences the subject in the song. The last track, “Laboratories of the Invisible World”, which is an excellent final song, is almost like a lyrical version of inception. With lines such as “I want you to think about 93, it isn’t like planting a thought in your head”. As silly as the analogy is, the concept is nevertheless familiar. Yet, if anything, this track is a love song. It tells a story of two people seemingly bound together only by thought. The subject in the song yearns for the other. This sense of yearning accompanied with the pure sense of dread in the music creates a mood that is quite beautiful and unique.
Musically, this album is as creative as any of maudlin of the Well’s past releases, if not more. Certainly it is more accessible and easier to listen to. This isn’t to say that the previous three albums were bad; by the contrary, they were very important for the band’s growth. But Part the Second transcends those works, with a sense of brilliant maturity. I would recommend this album to any fan of avant-garde rock/metal, progressive rock, or even post-rock. It’s the perfect entry point into the various Toby Driver projects, and maybe even into the RIO (rock in opposition) movement.