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Kayo Dot - Blue Lambency Downward CD (album) cover


Kayo Dot



3.53 | 110 ratings

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4 stars Rating: B+

This is not a Kayo Dot album. Oh, certainly, Kayo Dot wrote it, recorded it, released it, and the music certainly sounds like Kayo Dot, but, on the whole, Blue Lambency Downward doesn't hit like a Kayo Dot record. That's not to say it's bad (it's very good), but whereas Kayo Dot's first two albums slowly revealed all their subtleties over time, Blue Lambency Downward seems much more on the surface. It certainly has plenty of subtleties, and it's best when these are most present, but, for the most part, it reveals itself in far fewer listens than their earlier albums. And thus, while I feel like I have yet to discover every nuance of Choirs of the Eye after countless listens, I already feel like I know Blue Lambency Downward.

This wouldn't be a problem necessarily, except that a lot of my initial love for this album was not just the result of loving what I heard, but loving what I heard and anticipating that more would reveal itself to me. That hasn't really happened, and, instead, I've found that the album isn't nearly as good as I had thought. "Clelia Walking" has interesting moments, but it overstays its welcome, even given its short run-time, lowering what could've been great to merely good. "Right Hand is the One I Want" starts with a great piano intro, then descends into noodling, but without the tension so perfectly drawn from the supposed noodling on Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue. Like with "Clelia Walking", it's good, but there is the distinct feeling of unfulfilled potential. "The Sow Submits" is better than those two, making fantastic use of clarinet, but it still feels disjointed, jumping from theme to theme similarly to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, but without the finesse Sleepytime employs.

But for all that I can say that's not enthusiastic about this album, it is outweighed by the parts where Kayo Dot shows why they are one of the leading avant-garde bands around today. The mind-blowing title-track that opens the album is among the best Kayo Dot tracks. Indeed, it's not surprising that of all the tracks on the album, it is one of the most enjoyable, "Blue Lambency Downward", that most grows on the listener. And then there's the closer, "Symmetrical Arizona", which is by far the album highlight. Like "Blue Lambency Downward", it is a grower, starting with a brief, soft intro that recalls the subtlety of the Kayo Dot that gave the world Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue. After a fantastic guitar solo (!), it really picks up; the closing five minutes are proof that Kayo Dot still has it together. It's a wild freak-out somewhere between the finish of "Aura on an Asylum Wall" and the first climax of "The Manifold Curiosity", and it is Kayo Dot at their very best.

It is, of course, notable that Kayo Dot has moved to shorter songs on this album. The longest, "Symmetrical Arizona", clocks in at less than eleven minutes, whereas both Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue had two songs over fourteen minutes. For the most part, this shift doesn't quite work; all three of the weaker tracks I mentioned are among the shorter pieces. That said, "The Awkward Windwheel" shows just how good this shorter format can be for Kayo Dot (should they choose to pursue it). Like most of the album, it's pretty immediate, but it also has enough going on that it doesn't suffer on repeated listens the way "Clelia Walking" and others did. With pounding jazz drums and fabulous vocals, it is a hard-hitting piece that captures Kayo Dot doing something new and succeeding.

Other than the shift to shorter songs, the only big change on this album (compared to their previous albums) is the lack of metal. Granted this is a big change, but it's largely an effective one. There are no points on this album where adding metal elements would help. The problems this album has are almost entirely derived from slight lapses in composition, not in the style of music. What remains to be seen is whether, if Kayo Dot continues in this vein, they can clear up the composition issues that appear briefly here and release a metal-less masterpiece.

Ultimately, Blue Lambency Downward isn't as good as Choirs of the Eye (though it's on the same level as Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue). As such, it will likely come across as a disappointment to many, but that's unfair, since it truly is a brilliant album, though it will likely be seen as a transitional album if Kayo Dot manages to improve in the new direction they are taking. Those new to Kayo Dot should probably start elsewhere, but for established fans of the band, this is essential.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |


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