Toby Driver
They Are the Shield


4.5
superb

Review

by Benjamin Kuettel STAFF
September 21st, 2018 | 224 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Toby Driver has created a unique, sophisticated work of art by composing stunning string arrangements within atmospheric epics.

Toby Driver of maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot (along with a slew of other projects) released his first solo album in over a decade just last year. What the excellent Madonnawhore began was a new dimension to the versatile songwriter’s avant-garde and forward-thinking music. It consisted of ghostly songs and a stripped down instrumental line-up, possessing a level of intimacy that was previously unexplored by Driver. His first solo album in over a decade could be considered his most straightforward release by embodying a consistent tone and style from beginning to end, which maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot have avoided. They Are the Shield expands on the wistfulness of its predecessor for more complex and dynamic songwriting. Unique soundscapes come alive through an interplay of violins and sublime ambiance, particularly in album opener "Anamnesis Park." Nearly six minutes go by before the singing and main groove of the song even begins, but the violin and keyboard centric intro is so captivating and well-structured that it feels completely natural.

The unconventional writing Driver is known for is at its strongest here, as it is in the best work by maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot. Violins, guitars, and keyboards drift in and out of playing solo or layered together in a uniquely beautiful way. “Glyph” is a lush, sorrowful piece featuring one of Driver’s most impressive vocal performances. The track crescendos with a cinematic slow dance between achingly gorgeous violins and atmospheric guitar tones. Some moments on the first half sound faintly influenced by early Godspeed You! Black Emperor and later-day Talk Talk in rewarding fashion. “470 Nanometers” is a more energetic piece and an album highlight, reminiscent of the maudlin of the Well reunion album Part the Second, with dazzling guitar and violin playing and grooving drums.

While retaining focus, They Are the Shield is able to explore a wide range of dynamics, from unsettling ambient sections to uptempo passages of a kind of undefined middle ground between chamber music and post-rock. Driver lets the influences of contemporary experimental groups and composers like Ulver and Max Richter seep in while making something wholly original. “Scaffold of Digital Snow” possesses a kind of mystique as it begins with solo violin and guitar chords, then transitions to a soaring middle section of stunning string arrangements with singing by Bridget Bellavia, the multi-talented collaborator with Driver on their dark electronic music project Piggy Black Cross. “The Knot” is an ambient ballad that closes the album on an emotional note, as the track builds to a stunning climax that shows the range of Driver’s singing voice and an ethereal blend of piano, violin, and synth tones.

They Are the Shield does what any musical successor should do, by evolving from what came before. Madonnawhore was great in its own right, and what Toby Driver has made here is even more expansive and cinematic, with an unpredictable nature somewhat reminiscent of his other projects. As elegant and alluring as the record sounds, it is not without unsettling and strange moments as well, particularly in the eerie “Smoke-Scented Mycelium.” Each listener will glean something different from the album, including the abstract and mysterious lyrics. Toby Driver continues to prove that he’s an uncompromising artist, obviously not averse to trying new musical ideas but remaining focused on the emotional impact and beauty of what a piece can express. They Are the Shield finds Toby Driver continuing to evolve as a solo artist, with masterful string arrangements and gorgeous atmospheres for one of the finest albums of the year.



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user ratings (158)
Chart.
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 20th 2018


17757 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Stream: https://www.popmatters.com/toby-driver-they-are-shield-2606232402.html

Digging: Thom Yorke - Suspiria

JustJoe.
September 20th 2018


5091 Comments


It has begun.

Digging: Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children

Asdfp277
September 20th 2018


18938 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

so is this any good?

kmagnum1x
September 21st 2018


333 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

toby driver returns to writing songs that have structure and takes ulver influences to great results

Digging: High on Fire - Electric Messiah

AcmeApathyAmok
September 21st 2018


598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Definitely agree on the Ulver influence. The Knot hits me similarly to “What Happened?” off Shadows Of The Sun. BTW, it’s up as a “pay what you wish” price on the Blood Music Bandcamp as of right now but IDK how long it’ll remain as such.

Digging: SUMAC - Love In Shadow

kmagnum1x
September 21st 2018


333 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it's on spotify that's enough for me

Trophycase
September 21st 2018


893 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Toby driver and songs with structure? I'm sold.

FacelessMan
September 21st 2018


1048 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yes...hell yes

Wildhoney
September 21st 2018


237 Comments


This is absolutely gorgeous.. The strings are fucking tear-inducing on this thing. Never thought I'd hear Toby like this

DarkHorizontal
September 21st 2018


44 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

:')

guitarded_chuck
September 21st 2018


15970 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ulver influences wot ok ill listen~~~~

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 21st 2018


17757 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Yea mainly Shadows of the Sun and Messe. Maybe the early 2000s soundtracks they did too.

DarkHorizontal
September 21st 2018


44 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I listened to Shadows of the Sun after listening to this. They pair quite well.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 21st 2018


17757 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

F#A# Infinity too

guitarded_chuck
September 21st 2018


15970 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is nice, i like the concept, feels a bit monotonous/one-note/draggy at times (ulver feels the same for me often) but i get the love, overall sound is fantastic, this is about as much as id like a proggy folk album probably

AnimalsAsSummit
September 21st 2018


3481 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

best album of the year

Digging: Ryuichi Sakamoto - Sweet Revenge

Wadlez
September 21st 2018


4917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Cue the superlatives. Amazing work Mr. Driver.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 21st 2018


17757 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I made the summary a bit shorter. This is by far my favorite album of the year.

luci
September 21st 2018


10041 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

what a gorgeous chamber rock suite

necropig
September 21st 2018


4714 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

If only he was as good at posting vinyl as he is making music :[

Digging: Frightmare - Bringing Back The Bloodshed



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