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Kayo Dot - Coyote CD (album) cover


Kayo Dot



3.85 | 173 ratings

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3 stars Soundtrack to a Bad Trip

Toby Driver has been trying to translate a nightmare into recorded sound for some time now. As Kayo Dot's COYOTE opens with a painful wail, I thought he'd finally done it. In my review of the Dots' previous album, BLUE LAMBENCY DOWNWARD, I complained that Driver seemed to have forgotten that we the audience were part of the picture. He was in his own self-absorbed world of major depression. On my first listen to COYOTE, I almost laughed out loud because he had fixed that exact shortcoming. Much more attention has been paid to pacing, movement, and emotional communication on this album. Certainly, the narrator of this tale is in misery, but as the very first line describes "Heeellllpp Meeee," we can feel Driver reaching out to us. We're being drawn in to the horror. And what a difference that choice makes.

Drivers style has evolved a lot over the years to the point that I'd describe COYOTE as a kind of avant chamber rock. Where BLD felt like free form jazz at times, I can almost see Driver directing the members of his band on this one. The horns, strings, and bass (which is especially splendid) provide almost all of the tonal structure to the album, and their performances remind much more of classical music (though very avant) than rock. There is no metal here at all. There is plenty of intense, heavy handed drumming and some electronic textures, but COYOTE is more like a Univers Zero record than it is like Driver's previous band Maudlin of the Well.

There are places where the music falls off the edge into chaos, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing given the type of music this is. But there's really not a sense of growing tension or release on either side of the noise. You, the listener, are just moved from one form of misery to another. These sections are not insufferably long as they were on the previous record, and I can understand Driver's basic intentions placing those parts in the songs. Its just that it doesn't work for me. Similarly, some of the slower sections still drag a bit too long. Thankfully, I can always feel a kind of pulse, a sense of rhythm running even if it is woefully crippled, like a 17 year old dog with a thorn in one paw and a bad hip over another.

Unifying all of Drivers work is a singular sense of tonality which often creates an eerie beauty that is virtually nowhere else. I'm not sure I can pin it down, but Driver's work is pretty quickly identifiable. Perhaps its just the combination of rhythm, lyrical theme, pale oblivion, too much junk in the veins, hard to tell.

Two of the best pieces on the record are the opener "Calonyction Girl" which sets the horrorific stage, and the multi-part "Abyss Hinge." The second is a (relatively) quicker, livelier piece with a lot more going on in the mix. Part I is nicely concise, and the first third of Part II does its job to maintain interest. Just when things become a morass of quicksand again, a lonely trumpet playing a (gasp) major melody comes in and then it picks up, only to wander to its conclusion. In contrast, the second track "Whisper Ineffable" is pretty much mud the entire way and doesn't have much to say that wasn't already done better in the opener. Also, having two major downer tracks in a row was just a little too much. The closer "Cartogram Out of Phase" is again painfully slow, I think quarter note = 7 or something. But the vocal is more focused, has some nice interplay with the instruments, and the piece finishes in a merciful 3:11. I wouldn't say we get any kind of release, but there is just enough major tonality and lift at the end that I don't finish feeling like I'd been beaten with a hammer.

I must say that of all the music to hack your wrist to in the world (of which there is far too much) this is probably one of the best. Perhaps it is because I have something to live for that this music doesn't connect with me more than it does. I certainly recognize an artistic talent that is quite high, and an achievement that far surpasses its predecessor. To balance my mixed feelings Im giving 3/5. That seems fair.

Negoba | 3/5 |


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