Review Summary: He drew the pictures of his dreams - mechanically.
Kayo Dot emerged into my musical life with Hubardo. That album was a revelation to me, through both its vivacity and aplomb, and comfortably resided amongst my favourite albums of last year. Nonetheless, I was content to explore Kayo Dot's discography with patience - and so, just as I was once again growing intrigued by their work, it was a delight to discover they would be releasing another album this year.
Coffins on Io is terrifically distinct to Hubardo. Rather than conducting an exposition of the band's stylistic shift, I think this change is best expressed through contrasting the thematic tone of this album to its antecedent. It was interesting to note that Hubardo, both lyrically and sonically, had an intense reliance on earthly nature. Yet Coffins draws upon a wholly different source - that of space highways and cosmic ordeals. There is a strong sci-fi tone to this album, which is conveyed in its streamlined and often emphatic instrumentation. The seas, rivers, trees and storms portrayed in Coffins' predecessor are supplanted by a futurist void.
Coffins on Io hums with a sleek and synthetic resonance. Regardless, I'd most liken Coffins on Io to some of the more impressive progressive rock acts of old. Peter Gabriel-era Genesis is conjured in Kayo Dot's flair and force. Electronics intimate over a tightly bound drum performance, whilst bass and guitar cruise along in strange, planetary melodies. On occasion the music will open into a great aperture where Toby Driver's vocals resound. His performance is captured in intimate detail, especially on the uneasy croon of Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22 - 'Blood on my hands/And the thing on the backseat/That used to be human.'
Each of these songs is vibrant and exciting. A mighty finale arises from the darkness and dormancy of The Mortality of Doves, symbolising the great turmoil of Coffins on Io. As for the opening of Library Subterranean - one can imagine standing bereft and alone before an empyrean infinite. However, the grandeur of these moments is somewhat mitigated by instances of mildness and repetition. For example, Spirit Photography features a lapse which stifles the song. Whilst I appreciate it as being zany and alien, the conclusion of Library Subterranean does persist for longer than feels intuitive or necessary. The same can be said for quite a few melodies here.
Though Kayo Dot's approach is highly individual, and decidedly makes no concessions, this album is configured in a way which could interest many. The band perform acutely and execute the conceptual aspect of this album with finesse. I haven't yet been mesmerised, but I consider Coffins on Io to be an excellent piece of music.