Review Summary: The music of Plastic House on Base of Sky is unique and exciting due to oceanic synthesizers and a vibrant sci-fi atmosphere, sounding like it came from the far reaches of space or some distant future on earth.
Kayo Dot is intent on never falling into stagnation or predictability; subverting expectations is how the band works fundamentally. Frontman Toby Driver and his collaborators never make the same album twice, frequently changing everything about how the previous record sounded. This time around, Driver once again shifts his musical focus after the success of avant-garde metal masterpiece Hubardo
and its completely different sounding sci-fi influenced follow-up Coffins on Io
one year later.
Kayo Dot's musical style molds into something new once again while sounding like a logical follow-up to the more relaxing, just as excellent Coffins on Io
. Plastic House on Base of Sky
(PHOBOS, one of the moons of Mars) harnesses pop songwriting perfectly, immersing the listener in eccentric, alien compositions thanks to lush synthesizer tones and complex rhythms only faintly reminiscent of the band's past.
The organization of Plastic House...
is one of its strongest elements. There are only five songs, the first four being dense, immersive epics that each flirt with a pop song format. Make no mistake that this is only on the surface, as the actual songwriting is highly adventurous and leans toward the avant-garde far more than the mainstream. This is the main similarity the album shares with Coffins on Io
, as it also emphasized catchier melodies and choruses than the band's previous records.
sounds more psychedelic and abstract than its predecessor, with surreal keyboards and melodramatic singing (in a good way) by Driver drawing on the styles of Coffins on Io
but raising the stakes to frenetic heights. The future-noir atmosphere from Coffins on Io
is expanded upon, and the lyrical themes are fitting for Driver’s eccentric vocal delivery as he explores an unsavory Orwellian nightmare.
Album opener “Amalia’s Theme” carries a mystical tone as it tells the story of a female oracle in a dystopian future. This may be the character depicted on the album cover. Themes like these throughout Plastic House...
are reminiscent of science fiction films like Blade Runner, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Total Recall. The retro-future noir vibes are brought to life by synthesizers that sound straight out of the 1980s or '90s.
Vibrant synthesizers build to massive climaxes within “All The Pain in All the Wide World” and “Magnetism.” The former begins as a lush slice of electronica before descending into an oddly timed middle section of strange electronic sounds and echoed vocals. It is one of the most bizarre passages of music the band have recorded, sounding like it could be the soundtrack for traveling through a wormhole. Some might think the song borders on self-indulgence as each minute goes on, but it works, and the first half of the song is a band highlight.
“Magnetism” features a high-pitched droning synth pattern over keyboard layers and frantic percussion during the otherworldly chorus: Driver sings of drug-addled wastelanders in alien cities, perhaps here on earth in a far distant, unfamiliar future. The evocative, spatial “Rings of Earth” follows, where Driver hauntingly sings of satellites circulating like vultures around dying worlds. Apocalyptic keyboards and pounding drums accentuate the death knell outro. After these four main epics, the dust settles on the mellow “Brittle Urchin,” a tranquil, reflective closer with beautiful guitar work.
Some will find Kayo Dot's latest difficult to digest before the quieter closing song. It is a demanding listen, but while it carries much of the challenging, unconventional aspects one can expect from a Kayo Dot record, there is still a highly melodic nature and even a catchiness at times that makes for an engrossing listening experience. Each listen yields fresh discoveries, particularly with the role of guitars adding to the rich, atmospheric keyboard tones and off-kilter rhythms.
It is rewarding to follow a band that consistently surprises their listeners with every work of art they produce, and Kayo Dot remain esoteric and cryptic while making detail-oriented, memorable songs. Plastic House on Base of Sky
is a perfect example of how rewarding Kayo Dot can be, as evolved and mesmerizing as always.