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Kayo Dot - Blue Lambency Downward CD (album) cover


Kayo Dot



3.53 | 110 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I better do some explaining here.

One year ago I wrote one of my longest, and most thoughtful reviews when I gave my opinion on the 2006 album of the year, KAYO DOT's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" (from now on, DAICT). I had to let my position be known. I had to speak my mind freely abut what I thought was the worst album to ever receive so much praise and acclaim. One year has passed, and the band has released new material, the album titled "Blue Lambency Downward" (from now on, BLD). While my opinion on Dowsing Anemone is still the same, I'm happy to say this time around, Driver has delivered music that is actually valuable.

To be fair with a band (or man, really) I really bashed (and, in my view, deservedly so) the last time around, let me first make a brief list of my major problems with DAICT and then I'll present my view regarding whether those issues have been solved or not.

- Vocals. Let's start with the less important. I just couldn't tolerate Driver's obnoxious, ear-crushing emotional whining that permeated DAICT. In BLD, Driver has finally decided to sing. His maybe is not the best voice ever but is a tremendous improvement, as it allows the music to become more melodic, more purposeful, less annoying, more musical. Also, it doesn't sound like a poor-man's Thom Yorke now, and he finally has a voice of his own, easy to identify, easy to understand, not-a-torture to follow.

- One-tempo only. DAICT was an excruciating experience to endure as it seemed like Driver decided to record songs with one rule in common: all of them had to be played in the same slow, dragging tempo. The whole album was the same. Now, in BLD, we are presented with a collection of tracks of more varied flavor, mood and, yes, dynamics and speed. Of course, most of them are played in a similar tempo, but now it feels like a natural thing for the album, as it flows from one song into the other and moods change and evolve.

- Lack of melody. DAICT had a lot of notes (well, sort of) but not one good melody. BLD is not really the ultimate expression of melody nor will I call Driver the new Mozart or something like that, but it's clear that it's much easier here to detect themes and ideas, musical phrases and some melodic passages of, yes, beauty. That's not a typo, I said it right. I will explain later when I talk about the songs.

- Lack of structure. DAICT was a complete chaos with no coherence and no discernable song structures. While BLD is not textbook verse-chorus-verse music, (it's quite difficult to find something resembling a chorus here), songs are shorter, more concise, and work so much better even in their own shapeless way. It takes a few hearings but you actually can find a map, a blueprint of what goes on here.

- Jamming nature. DAICT felt like a few musicians, heavily stoned, jamming in a room. It didn't seem like thought-of music. It didn't feel like composed music. The matter has been solved in BLD as I never got the idea that I was listening to a recording of a drug-induced jamming session. This feels like an album, music that was given thought, that was given time to develop, that was created with a purpose.

- Lack of purpose. I've seen comments regarding DAICT apparent smoothly flowing narrative. I just can't understand those. The same cannot be said about BLD. The albums flows perfectly from beginning to end, and the way the songs and the big scheme of the idea are presented, it actually feels like a cohesive work, that starts in point A and ends in point B for a reason. The album is quite a success in that.

- Silence. DAICT had such a big amount of silences that we could've easily created an epic song made out of just that, silence. In the baroque years, a musician would've been laughed at if he incorporated almost ANY silence into his music. In more recent days, silence is a tool not to be exaggerated with, and Driver seems to have finally understood that, as BLD has just the necessary amount of no-sound moments to enhance the effects his music is trying to achieve and not to bore the listener.

- Boring. the big problem with DAICT was that it was utterly boring. BLD isn't. That has a lot to do with the purpose factor I just talked about but mostly, and for sure my most famous complaint about the 2006's album of the year, the following point.

- Repetition. Finally, Driver has had mercy on us (at least on me) and decided to record songs with the normal amount of repetition of ideas and themes, leaving out the dreadful, atrocious tendency to end his two longest songs with more than 25 minutes altogether of constant repetition of a same poor, miserable, uncreative idea (or riff). That caused DAICT to become a 1-star album instead of the 2-star affair it could have been. But now in BLD, I applaud on my feet, standing up, Driver's decision not to repeat that experiment again.

With that monster of a problem out of the way, KAYO DOT could've released an exact album to DAICT and it would've still gotten a better review from me. But no. To be fair, is not only what is not here what I'm applauding, but especially, what IS here.

There were a few good things in DAICT: the musicians were capable, the harmonic treatment was interesting, and the whole thing seemed like a good project just killed in the process. What has happened with those three elements?

- Musicians. Well, it's almost Mr. Driver all by himself here, and he's, without a doubt, really talented in every instrument he touches. The rest of the musicians do their job perfectly, especially Skerirk and Teuber, who play wonderful, warm, jazzy saxophones and clarinets that give this album a distinct intellectual-yet-human, avant-garde-yet-traditional, enigmatic flavor.

- Harmony. BLD is a masterpiece of textures and harmonies. All in all, that's what the album really is about. Creating textures, landscapes of long and distant notes, eerie forests with naked branches that fall to the ground in a palette of colors and images. What Driver has accomplished here is truly remarkable: an album that seems to transcend its genre (more on this later) and move beyond description to the outer realm of art. He's not limited by the rules of conventional harmony and creates his own highly dissonant and at times atonal music. This is NOT the experimental waste of DAICT, this is the real thing.

- As said above, the weak idea in DAICT has finally grown up and matured into a brilliant body of work in BLD. The whole album seems like the culmination of a process initiated, probably, with the still- unheard (by me) "Choirs in the Eye". I will not say much about this theory but let me say that, after DAICT, BLD appears, feels like the natural realization of a developing process, like the birth of a new creature after the trial-and-error mistakes of the past. Driver has found his voice, and it's here.

Before I say a few words about the songs, let me just mention some additional elements worthy of praise.

- Recording. The recording is crystal clear here. We have several instruments here, many in the higher registers, and we can hear them all. The sound is pristine but never overproduced. The drums, I may say, have been recorded in that empty sound so typical of post-metal bands (more on the style later; this is NOT post-metal) as NEUROSIS. In fact, the drums sound very similar to those of that band: raw, empty, big, opaque, lifeless. But it adds to the experience. It helps create the atmosphere that finally permeates the album, and I can live with that.

- The style. What is KAYO DOT? I remember one year ago I called them post metal and many were outraged at the idea. I still maintain that DAICT sounds like the mix of a post-rock album with metal, with all the problems mentioned above. In the end, it had jazz and avant-garde elements but it all seemed pasted incoherently together. In BLD, the band finally reaches maturity as it can no longer be described in any terms but as KAYO DOT. The metal element has all but disappeared here, and we no longer feel any connection (other than the sound of the drums) between this music and that of NEUROSIS or PELICAN. Or that of any metal band for that matter. This is NOT metal. But this is also NOT rock or post-rock. There are a lot of jazz influences here, a lot of 20th-century-classical music influences also, but we can't say this is neither jazz nor academic music. This is KAYO DOT. Experimental music, avant-garde music. And good one at that.

Last year I dissected every little second of DAICT's tracks. I don't review albums that way anymore, but to be fair, let me return once again, though briefly, to that style of reviewing.

Blue Lambency Downward (10/10) The track starts like a menacing storm that is ready to explode, but at the same time, that would never hurt nobody, and that would actually heal souls in the process. Almost immediately voices sound, voices in chorus, soft, tenderly, creating the image in my mind of little mighty creatures or spirits in the deserted forest. The music remains at the same slow pace but the tension continually grows. At about the 2:44 minute mark the chaotic drums make their appearance, as if to destroy the dead peace that existed. Winds and psychedelic guitars intertwined creating an atmosphere of despair, loneliness and uncertainty. The drums finally play a steady rhythm, very jazzy and restless at that, providing the song with coherence and effect. This dance of sounds and colors in this narcotic forest subsides when the voice reappears underlined by an acoustic guitar, breaking into the noise with a declamation of utter desperation. The music reaches beauty (yes, it's not a typo) when the voice sings a depressing, hopeless melody with drums trying to survive the storm in the back. This is the mood of the remainder of this, the first-ever (for me) absolutely satisfying track by KAYO DOT.

Clelia Walking (10/10) A lonely guitar and a joyful distracted clarinet talk in a dialogue that seems to go nowhere, as the guitar is pensive and the wind is playful, yet it starts to get darker and sadder with every minute that passes. Heavy accents in the drums announce a new theme, in one of the few sections here that still sounds like post-metal. Then a violin stops the violence and only adds to the ambiguous, uncertain mood that was before. A keyboard makes a brief appearance and the chaos ensues once again. Calm again, the violin is the only living creature in this barren land. Suddenly a voice that seems to come from the 60's (?!) sings a very seductive (?!) yet dangerous melody. A fantastic nostalgic magical track. Best ever by KAYO DOT and deserving the quite unbelievable (for me) rating I'm giving it.

Right Hand is the One I Want (7/10) Piano, atmospheric old-fashioned voices, drums played with brushes, all adds to the atmosphere of a weird psychedelic bar of times gone by. The effect here is of a sort of jazz-meets-LSD that is very interesting though hardly optimist. Until right now, the only flaw we're starting to feel with BLD is that the mood of the record continues in the same narcotic-depressing vein, and we could very well use a faster, more dynamic moment here. The songs wanders a little aimlessly for a few minutes, bringing back just a few short memories of nightmares of the past, but unlike DAICT, it still feels as a part-of-something rather than a musical abortion. The weakest track here.

The Sow Submits (7.5/10) Finally, the mood seems to change. The same psychedelic, hallucinating atmosphere but with more decision, with more strength, with more of a drive. The drums don't know what to do while the winds, strings and guitar fight for domination. The drums give up, only to try again to no avail. Melody isn't really happening here, but the textures make up for its absence. The eternal fight between the instruments is, absurdly, won by the bass, the last instrument to be heard in this enigmatic track.

The Awkward Wind Wheel (9/10) Another explosion of colors leads to the fastest section in the album, a necessary change in mood and speed. Suddenly, the voices appear; we are in a pretty standard grunge-sounding song (?!) with hints of MR BUNGLE. Driver (or whoever it is) actually sings like a rocker (?!) for a few moments, and the track continues to go in the same way, reaching points of weird (in this album and band) traditionalism, sounding like normal rock music (?!) Of course the relentless chaotic drums have to have the final word at the end, but the track is pretty normal for KAYO DOT's standards. Maybe not the greatest track ever, but positioned as it is in the album, it works wonders.

The Useless Ladder (8/10) We're back in the land of phantoms and illusions. We won't be here long, as this track is really short. Only voices singing over a soft cloth made of little sounds. Too short, but effective, again, in the whole process of BLD.

Symmetrical Arizona (9.5/10) The winds start this one up with doubts, as if insecure of where to go, like covering a labyrinth or fog and death trying to aim for the light. This is not non-sense noise as in DAICT. We hear short-lived precious melodies here. The guitar finally appears with a sense of importance and decisiveness that makes its weight felt in the track. The guitar plays a very atmospheric, melancholic solo for a few minutes, and we feel like the song is actually going somewhere, it's like something is about to happen. After a few minutes of this, the bass brings all to a conclusion and the strings appear, pizzicato at times, to start to build the final tension. The drums come back in all their glory with the final triumphant moment in the album, where the voice sings its lasts chants of despair before the mighty machine of nature and circumstances kills it. Another steady, up-tempo (for KAYO DOT at least) section closes the album in ambiguity, like a rock album that wasn't meant to be or a jazz jam gone wrong or an avant-garde experiment that actually has its feet on the ground for once. The music recedes. The album ends. We're satisfied.

As I said before, what the album has most going for it is the fact that it flows perfectly like a musical story, with a beginning, a middle section made of shorter tracks, and an end of epic proportions. I can't understand why some people say the shorter tracks damage the experience. For me, here I have balance, I have coherence, I have a PLAN and not just a pretentious over-indulgent jamming session as in the long, 18-minute disasters of DAICT.

Of course, as I stated when I started my review of that fatidic album, It's obvious that the word music doesn't have the same meaning for everybody. For some people, music was what they got in DAICT.

For me, it's what I get in this album.

The big battle of instruments that Blue Lambency Downwards is leaves me a final question. What is the rating I should give it? And if I give it a real high one, is it really that different from 2006's Dowsing Anemone to deserve it?

Yes, the album is THAT different. I heard the 2006 beast just a day before listening to this album for the first time. All that was wrong in that record has been solved in the newer one. All the elements that made that experience such a pain to endure are a thing of the past.

Also, yes, there are still some issues with this music that makes it not apt for it to be my every-day thing. I probably won't hear it all the time as I do with my favorite music. But it's obvious that I will listen to it much more than its predecessor, and, more importantly, I will enjoy it million times more, as this is an album I can digest, I can analyze, I can tolerate, and ultimately, I can even praise, and applaud. For this one is a work of art.

So, let's do the same that I did before. Not an average of songs but a rating of the whole experience. Subjectively, the album would get a 4 by me. In my mind, this is as avant-garde as I can go, (I don't like extremely modern music) and, logically, at the apex of that style for me, it reaches a 5. A rating of 4.5 is unavailable. So I will extend to KAYO DOT the same courtesy I extend to my favorite bands, and go UP for the final rating.

Mr. Toby is finally in the Driver seat with me (awful pun intended).

The T | 5/5 |


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