A lot of bands that play heavy music are considered very progressive or forward-thinking. Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, and, what the hell, even the unfortunately cheesy Protest the Hero are allegedly pushing the envelope in terms of the popular notion of abstract assumptions about music being intelligible with palatable levels of dissonance, tempo coherency, and melody. Dillinger Escape Plan uses awesome time signature turns and often employs the octatonic and whole tone scales for their melodic content, Meshuggah uses computers to mathematically superimpose odd time beats (think 23/16) onto 4/4 melodies, and Protest the Hero prove that Avenged Sevenfold isn't the most tasteless injection of power metal into a more angular form of metal. However, all of these bands seems occupied with matters of time signature and song structure oddities. Excepting the superficial 20th century dabbling of the aforementioned melodic scales in Dillinger Escape Plan's music, none of the modern heavy bands that are both considered ahead of the curve and actually popular focus at all on experimenting with harmony. Most of the harmonic choices made by these bands are rooted in arbitrarily producing dissonance or really don't seem ahead of the curve unless teleported back to the 19th century. While many modern bands can throw around inventive and fresh time signature or feel changes, none of them have progressed past the initial ventures into post-tonality that ushered in the notion of atonality or 20th century music. The methods and complex compositions of Schoenberg or Bartok, which date back to the turn of the 20th century, are still leagues beyond what rock-descended, heavy bands are experimenting with today.
But then there's Kayo Dot and the primary creative force behind the band, Toby Driver. Kayo Dot, though less popular than DEP and Meshuggah, are getting a lot of respect in certain circles online, and particularly around Boston, for being experimental in a vein that somehow surpasses the artiness of DEP and Co. Nobody has really placed a finger on how Kayo Dot separates themselves, but I'd have to say it's because they're experimenting with harmony, dynamics, and instrumentation in ways that other heavy bands haven't even though of. The result is a sound that is extremely new and diverse. The sounds that Kayo Dot creates are beyond those of any other band out there today that employ either rock instruments or classical ones (I'm not including bands like Throbbing Gristle whose instruments are even more diverse and insane, e.g., an [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANS_synthesizer]AMS synthesizer[/url]). Now, consider that Toby Driver needed to have a side project to create music that was even more progressive and experimental than his work with Kayo Dot. And yes, it's pretty insane. His first LP In the L..L..Library Loft is at the same time an expansion and minimalization of the Kayo Dot sound. The overall density and epic power found in Kayo Dot's music has been eliminated in favor of a soundscape that allows the listener to focus as much on the subtleties of the composition as possible, which is to say the album is a lot more ambient, with a dynamically less intense, and more open or diverse soundscape. It is with this toning down of Kayo Dot's intensity that Driver opens up opportunities to create even more unusual and harmonically intriguing music. With the intense heaviness of Kayo Dot removed, Driver's compositions, which can be up to 20 minutes long, now focus less on reaching visceral emotional swells, and focus more on ensnaring the listener by being harmonically interesting and original at every twist and turn. It is with this further foray onto the bleeding edge of progressive rock/heavy/modern music that Driver composes this album. Here are four compositions. Keep in mind that I don't mean to use the word "composition" as a way of being a fanboy or buying in to the artistic qualities of this album. I use it to indicate that each of these tracks is meticulously planned and executed in such a way that this album shouldn't be viewed as an LP, but really as a collection of four composed pieces. While that may seem a convoluted definition, when reading Driver's liner notes, and listening to the careful specifics of each song, the intense thought that went into these four pieces becomes readily apparent. With that said, I'd like to look at each individually instead of as an album.
Kandu vs. Corky (Horrorca)
Originally Posted by Toby Driver
This one's a microtonal piece that loves bell-shaped things. The rhythm is basically a bell-curve shape over and over again, and some of the instrumentation (bells, and sine waves) are themselves bell-shaped. Part of the original idea was to mic things really loud but play them extra-quietly, so that they sounded really artifact-laden on tape. The strings at the beginning use this idea, as well as some of the cymbals, which we miked right above the rim of each, and a simple touch would produce an insanely resonant bass tone. All these things working together create an extremely undulatious take on contemporary drone-metal.
electric guitar, bells, sine waves, drum kit (2), upright bass, electric bass, violin, trombone, euphonium, trumpet, vocal.
Though I'm lost at what instrument the "sine wave" is, it's interesting to listen for all the aspects Driver mentions. This song's rhythms are bell-shaped in such a way that the rhythms start slowly, then get faster, and then move back to being played slowly. The sound is not unlike playing quarter notes, then eighth notes, and then sixteenth notes, and then going backwards, except the transition between note durations is smooth and gradual, implying the curve of a bell or a sine wave. That effect within itself is very very cool. This song is composed to exploit that possibility and it gives the song an oddly specific formula to its free time sound. Also, the fact that the bells and violins of this song exploit a lot of microtonal sounds suggests that Driver was also varying divisions of pitch into gradual or smooth divisions as well. Both of these two devices together give the piece a bending sound, that is, as the rhythm or pitches speed up or move up in pitch respectively, it sounds like a guitar bend or weird acceleration that gives the piece a vibe as if there's a swell of tension and then a release from it, much like the bend of a string, or just a bending sensation in general. This effect is very powerful. And, because the song structure has a constant build throughout that culminates in a very opaque and dissonant concluding section, the build of tension becomes greater every iteration of the rhythm/pitch, making the piece feel like it's bending further and further every time, until it snaps into disparate fragments at around 13:00, and then recedes into more calm territory starting at 13:36. While I've described the effect of the composition techniques, it's difficult to understand without hearing it first hand, because I have never heard a song that uses a cool mathematical/spatial premise as successfully as Driver manipulates this technique of emulating bell-shapes.
The Lugubrious Library Loft
Originally Posted by Toby Driver
This clustonic piece is based on the need for two persons to perform each instrument. For example, the piano requires a player on the keyboard and a player malleting the strings simultaneously, and so on for each instrument. As for the vocals, one person was to sing only the notes in an "ah" while the second person skillfully inserted their lips, tongue, and teeth into the first person's mouth and moved them around a bit to form the enunciations.
prepared piano, string piano, bowed tuning forks, tuning fork pattycake, two-tongue vocals, electric bass, electric guitar, violin.
Another composition with an insane premise. The idea should be clear from Driver's explanation and his literalist tongue in cheek terminology like "two-tongue vocals" can also be understood by thinking of the instrument of vocals being played by two people. In this case, Driver is paired with the violinist of Kayo Dot, Mia, and to simplify the explanation, Driver is creating sound using his vocal chords, and Mia is manipulating Driver's mouth, and in turn the "lyrics" of the song, with her own. And, while this idea is pretty awesome and defines how the instruments are played throughout the piece, it doesn't have an obviously audible result in the music, except in the vocals, which only are present in the beginning section of the composition. Before and after the vocals come in, the piece just sounds like a really cool 20th century piece. The song begins with a mix of violin and piano that focuses a lot on the relationships within the whole tone scale, including a lot of cool tritone resolutions. This use of interesting or "modern" scales to produce the harmony and melody of a piece are Driver's main pursuit of the concepts of early 20th century music as he reiterates and convolutes certain melodic passages throughout the piece as a way of exploring different sounds. The result is an amazingly catchy post-tonal piece. I especially like that the song has four main instruments, piano, tuning fork, guitar, and violin, running their own chaotic solos that build and overlap in a really cool way to force the piece into its crescendo that spans about 3-4 minutes of the song. While the piano is running through a pointillistic, Webern-esque bass line, the tuning forks are being "patty-caked" into different microtonal pitches, and the guitar is slinking along a few middle-eastern and jazzy sounding scalar runs. The blend is fantastically wild and eclectic, and makes this song my favorite on the album, despite not quite living up to and fully exploiting its awesome premise.
Bright Light Upon Us
Originally Posted by Toby Driver
The idea behind this one was to just have a band play in one room, and place the microphone in another room behind walls and closed doors. I wrote the song with those things in mind, trying to use sounds, rhythms, harmonies, etc. that would result in a song that sounded right only when listened to from one room over - in other words, if you heard it in the room it was being played in, it wouldn't sound as good. The ambient quality of the song would obviously have to be pretty important, to discourage the listener from listening in a way that they were used to doing. I've heard plenty of music that has haunted me most when drifting in from a far-off hall, most often piano music. Never with a metal band though, so i was trying to capture the same vibe here with that instrumentation.
electric guitar, drum kit, electric bass.
This song, though haunting and mysterious in premise, as realized on this CD, is much less cool than in theory. The end result is a piece that is too expansive, too ambient, and too pensive. I feel that because the song is so distant and long, a lot of the cool ideas and actual playing heard off in the other room are not memorable and are lost in the mix. The overall sound of the song is akin to listening to a Silent Hill OST. There is a general wall of sound that exists and shapeshifts in the background, which is likely the effect derived from all of the sounds coming through amplifiers and blending as they go through the wall and into the next room where the microphone is. It is cool and sets a nice pall over the whole song, but also renders it too homogeneous and consistent in its dynamics, which only vary when one instrument sticks out of the mix, which is an instance that is inconsistent and unreliable. This song strikes me as the only one on the album that isn't careful or perfect. It is very rough hewn and feels very spontaneous and improvised as if the musicians are reacting to the knowledge that the sound of their music is being warped by the recording technique as they play. While the result is surely unique, and something interesting to hear, the piece is too opaque, especially being held up against very concrete and specific songs like "Kandu..." and "The Lugubrious..." I am very fond of the tones selected on this song. While they may contribute to the opacity of the piece, if the listener focuses for any minute long period in the song, I'm sure s/he will find interesting tonal tidbits to enjoy. It's just as an eighteen minute long piece, it doesn't succeed as well.
Originally Posted by Toby Driver
My friend [url=http://www.polyrhythmatics.net/]Forbes Graham[/url] has been experimenting with interesting trumpet sounds lately. I was interested in hearing his technique in a different context, so I wrote a song based on that, "Eptaceros" means "seven-horn," an appropriately haunting title for one of the most beautiful and bleak pieces I have ever written.
cello (2), electric guitar, piano, trumpet, vocal.
This song, though exotic in description and name, is actually the most straight-shooting of all the pieces on the album, and sounds the most Kayo Dot-like of any of these 4 compositions. The piece employs a lot of interesting trumpet sounds, but doesn't ever sound like it is dominated by using these sounds. "Eptaceros" is a tightly composed piece that sounds string and piano centric, and those parts are discernible and concrete. The parts that are less so obvious are the vocals and trumpets. The trumpet sounds have two main incarnations; one is a breathy sound created by not pursing one's lips while blowing through the trumpet, and the other is a microtonal wailing that acts as a backdrop for the second half of the piece, and is created by oscillating the pitch with the pursed blowing that enters the trumpet, not unlike the way of modulating pitch on a kazoo or slideless trombone. These two effects are awesome. The breathy sound is paired with the vocals, and sounds like an eerie shadow to Driver's celestial vocal style. The wailing sound is like having an experimental solo occuring in the background of the more tightly composed foreground of the violin and the piano. Both make for an enjoyable and interesting diversity that makes this song a little more unusual than normal Kayo Dot songs, though the overall sound and style of the piano and violin are more "traditional" (if Kayo Dot's music can even be called that).
Overall, these four piece are insane. Straight up. They are inventive in premise and execution, and all except "Brown Light Upon Us" are admirably rigorous in the tightness of their composition and sound. While this album is incredibly experimental, even by the standards of those who can listen to Dillinger Escape Plan comfortably, it is a compelling and sometimes even catchy listen. While I would like to see 17:57 of this album given a little more form and more memorable instrumental flourishes, this album is a superior effort, and an awesome collection to wrap one's mind and ears around.
For more educational reading on this album go to http://www.kayodot.net/toby
I give this my two thumbs up. You made a slight typo on the name of "Brown Light Upon Us" in the review. In mention of that song, I think I like it more than you, but dislike it for the same reasons. It seems to dwell too long in places and fails to catch the way the others do.
It's a real shame that this review got so little attention; I was reading the description of the first track and I just thought "man, this is nuts" and I knew I had to check it out. Maybe slightly too cerebral, but that remains to be seen.This Message Edited On 12.29.06