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Toby Driver - They Are The Shield CD (album) cover


Toby Driver


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5 stars 4.8 Stars. Wonderful violin driven Prog

Sometimes it takes something special to bring oneself out of their self-imposed exile. In my case a full time job plus PhD and other work related commitments has left me with no time or energy for reviewing music. However its albums such as this one that are too good to give a 1-5 star rating to and move on. This album has left me completely captivated with its wonderful arrangements and with no reviews on this site I knew it was time to step out.

If you look though Toby's every expanding catalogue of avant-garde music, you will only find a handful of songs that can be considered beautiful and warm from start to finish. Even his softer albums such as Part the Second or Madonawhore are too caught up in their experimental ideas or cold minimalism respectively to ever consistently pull at the heart strings. The press release for this album stated it as Maudlin without the metal, or Kayo Dot without the chaos, which is a appropriate description, but it does not show how much Toby has stepped out of his comfort zone to create such a deliberately beautiful record. It is however important to note that for all the beauty on display this is still a full-blown Prog album with plenty of complex and experimental ideas to be found.

What will immediately stand out from first listen is how the strings dictate the structure and flow of the entire album. Ever since Mia fully left Kayo Dot after Hubardo we have not had any tracks with any form of strings, and it seems Toby has been growing a large stockpile of ideas since then. In many ways They are the Shield (TATS) can be seen as the successor of Mauldin's Part the Second, which up till now was his most string-dominated album. But TATS takes it to a completely new level, with some of the best arrangements I have ever heard.

For the most part TATS is a slow and fairly ambient album, but there are enough exceptions to keep it from dragging. 470 nanometers playfully shifts around and is full of energy that is ready to break out. The outros of The Knot and Glyph are full of emotion and spectacular arrangements that grasp my full attention. Despite TATS's mostly laidback tempo this 43 minute album flies by and never drops in quality, something I can only say about to a small number of albums.

I can keep going but I think I have said everything that needs to be said about this album. The only other important thing to note is that it is right now free on Bandcamp (name your price) so there is no excuse for not giving this album a try. This is a special album that I will be coming back to for many years to come, and can be ranked with Toby Driver's best material.

And now I return to my exile...

Report this review (#2038430)
Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars This may be the most underrated album of 2018, because it is a masterpiece. It is my first Toby Driver or Kayo Dot purchase, and I have added one more solo release and 8 Kayo Dot albums since to my collection. They Are The Shield is violin-driven, avant-prog mood music that is very immersive and rewarding to the listener. The vocals are sublime and delivered with the strings supplying the backbone. Only Toby Driver can create and compose something so unique and unexpected like this album. While there are hints of Kayo Dot, this release is more like a Maudlin Of The Well release with a more subtle approach. Anamnesis Park sets the tone for what will be a very similar flow of songs from start to finish. With a new Kayo Dot album looming, every fan should give this album a serious listen. Hopefully, the solo moniker will not prevent the Kayo Dot fans from giving it a spin. They Are The Shield is Highly recommend.
Report this review (#2238324)
Posted Monday, July 15, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars An album of very emotive, beautiful compositions much more in line with Toby's 2009 Maudlin of the Well release, Part the Second. Simple, spacious, violin-dominated soundscapes.

1. "Anamnesis Park" (10:37) opens with violins that remind me of Yes' proverbial concert opener, of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." At 2:15 this shifts completely to low end pulses before the violins and synths rejoin--this time in a weave at very high octave ranges. Stunning! Things thin out in the fifth minute for a single violin to soar in a Vaughn Williams type of display over deep, muted bass synth chords. At 5:45 everything shifts into a drum-supported slow, repetitive rhythm pattern, setting up for Toby's vocal entry at 6:40. The violin contributions between vocal verses are awesome and the music really starts to gel powerful with Toby's vocal in the second verse. Amazing first half is brought down to Earth a bit by the shift to the vocal section but then rising up again to great heights till the end. Wonderfully creative and beautiful song! (19.5/20)

2. "Glyph" (8:42) (17.5/20)

3. "470 Nanometers" (5:53) opens up moving along at a pace more compatible with the past two Kayo Dot albums, the double entry of Toby's wispy voice and the violins effectively change that. In the third minute there is some stripping of the sound palette, revealing a cool bare, spaciousness. From here out each of the instruments add very idiosyncratic contributions--as if independent of the song's foundational groove. Interesting! (9/10)

4. "Scaffold of Digital Snow" (6:42) gently played bare-bones electric guitar and violin duet in a rever-bed soundscape over the first 2:25. So gorgeous, so meditative and transportive! Muted organ enters with long-held chords shifting behind the breathy vocals of guest Bridget Bellavia while accompanied by the Steve Jansen-like space drumming of Brian Chase. Wow! What a song! (15/15)

5. "Smoke-Scented Mycelium" (7:38) very close to the Part the Second sound and feel with a little deeper bass pedal-like low end and jazzier drumming. A little too monotonous and drawn out--despite the interesting lyrics, peaceful ambiance, and screeching violin work in the background. (12.5/15)

6. "The Knot" (4:12) piano and keening violin accompany Toby's plaintive vocal. Very mature, sophisticated song for such a bare-bones construction. Toby's all grown up now! Wow! Stunning! (9.5/10)

Total time 43:44

Nice drumming throughout, Brian--kind of the back bone to the album.

Five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the top five Toby Driver albums ever!

Report this review (#2238338)
Posted Monday, July 15, 2019 | Review Permalink

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