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Kayo Dot


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4 stars Kayo Dot is one of those bands known for changing their tune with every album, but arguably never more so than with Coffins on Io. The band's pre-release description of the album as "80s retro-future noir? Blade Runner... a good record to put on while you drive across the desert at night under a toxic, post-apocalyptic atmosphere" is absurdly accurate- this is a dark, openly 80s influenced record, with little of the usual post-metal and jazz influenced sounds more familiar to the band's listeners. Much has also been made of it being probably the most accessible Kayo Dot album, with the emphasis being placed squarely on Driver's greatly melodic and clean vocals, a shift away from the trend of vocals on earlier KD albums being merely another part of the instrumental soundscape. The instrumentation is usually greatly restrained, in the tradition of 80s pop, and is often straightforward on the surface, being rhythm & riff-driven, albeit in a dark and twisted way. The songs themselves are almost always characterised by shorter vocal sections (some- 'Offramp Cycle'- even in verse-chorus form!) followed by long instrumental vamps, which are usually repetitive and feature little to no soloing, additions or changes, meaning they sometimes overstay their welcome. The biggest exception to that latter point is the highlight & centrepiece track 'Library Subterranean', in which the vamp upon a synth-drenched riff continually shifts and builds to a sax solo.

If previous Kayo Dot albums have been too obscure and difficult to get into for you, or you're a particular fan of dark, minimalist 80s pop a la Peter Gabriel, try this one out. A fantastic and atmospheric, if slightly flawed, album.

Report this review (#1324764)
Posted Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Toby Driver keeps on evolving. Perhaps more than any other artist . . . ever. Miles. Fripp. Genesis. Sylvian. Herbie. Mahavishnu John. Zorn. Ulver. Trying new styles, new personas, stretching himself instrumentally and compositionally, Toby Driver's Kayo Dot discography alone would compare favorably to any of the above shape-shifting artists--and Coffins on Io does not disappoint on that account. The much-mentioned Goth/glam-synth-pop sounds from the 1980s are absolutely present here (the over-long "Library Subterranean" [8:23] [9/10], the feel of the guitar chord sequence and vocal in the first two sections of "The Assassination of Adam"), but there is so much more. There is a haunting soundtrack jazziness to the saxophone-laden "Spirit Photography" (10:06) (10/10). And yet there are still vestiges of the Post Metal heaviness of previous Kayo Dot albums, such as on the second half of "The Assassination of Adam" (5:47) (7/10; a bit too grating for my ears), as well as some of the sensitivity and enjoyable melody-making of Toby's maudlin of The Well era ("Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile" [4:07] [8/10]). Parts of "The Assassination of Adam," interestingly, also fit into the realm of psychedelia.

Two of my favorite three songs sound like they came straight out of the 80s. In the haunting "Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22" (9:25) (10/10) I hear bits and pieces of bands like DIF JUZ, TALK TALK, BLUE NILE, THE CURE, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, NEW ORDER, DEPECHE MODE, ICEHOUSE, ROXY MUSIC, and even STEELY DAN (in the drumming).

Despite its length, "The Mortality of Doves" (11:54) (9/10) has one of my favorite Toby Driver vocals of all-time. Though it is very heavily treated in reverb, it is his most consistently 'normal' vocal ever. It is also heavily steeped in similarities to the glam styles of 1980s Glam rockers like Brian Ferry, Ira Davies and Dave Gahan. And yet it is Toby Driver--his own fresh, new territory. Where the song suffers, however, is in its lack of variation and 'development' over its twelve minute length.

"Spirit Photography" (10/10) escapes being pigeon-holed in the 1980s umbrella due to its spaciousness and its jazzier drums (though 1990s TALK TALK does come to mind). The gentle central groove with its DICK PARRY-like breathy sax is quite reminiscent, to me, of the wonderfully soporific songs "Breathe" and "Us and Them" from PINK FLOYD's Dark Side of the Moon.

Still, this is, for me, the most impressive--and my favorite--Kayo Dot album since Choirs of the Eye. The others have been either too unpolished, too dark and depressing, or seeming undeveloped and without direction. While Toby's signature chunky, rolling bass remains central to every song, Coffins on Io has seen Toby & Co. take a definite turn down "a road less travelled by" other bands. Let's hope that it is the one that makes all the difference.

4.5 stars--one of the best I've heard from 2014.

Report this review (#1328507)
Posted Wednesday, December 24, 2014 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
3 stars Kayo Dot. This band is such an anomaly in so many ways for me. In 2013, they released the classless, pointless "Hubardo", which I still feel is more of an experiment in cacophony than in actual music. They have rebounded, however, with 2014's "Coffins on Io", an album with a title that caught my interest to some degree.

The album features much the same list of performers as "Hubardo", with the notable exception of Mia on violin. I actually wasn't sure how to process that. Anyways, the band consists of Toby Driver on vocals, bass, synths, electric percussion, and guitars; Ron Varod on guitars; Daniel Means on saxophones, synths, and electric percussion; and Keith Abrams on drums and electric percussion. You may have noticed that electric percussion is pretty popular, and you would be correct. This new album from Kayo Dot is an electronic, bassy affair that harkens back to the 80s in some ways. The main difference between the last album and "Coffins on Io" is the fact that actual song structures and melodies are present. Some people have even likened this album's sound to Riverside, but I think that is unwarranted. Ultimately, however, the album has a droning sound to it that is mostly accompanied by some down-turning melodies and stark atmospheres. Some of the tracks, such as my favorite "Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22", are honestly quite beautiful in a weird, blunt way; almost as if we are listening to this album by candlelight somehow, if that makes any sense.

I was so happy that the band decided to make actual songs this time. I rather enjoyed the off-key sounds and edgeless sensibilities of this album. While the band returns to the style I despise here and there in the second half of this album, the album as a whole is genuinely interesting, beautifully different, and strange in the best of ways. I still can't commit and call this an excellent album, but "Coffins of Io" is definitely good and worth hearing.

Report this review (#1330258)
Posted Monday, December 29, 2014 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars In talking about KAYO DOT's "Coffins On Io" Toby Driver said they were going for that 80's retro-future noir vibe ala "Blade Runner". He also said that the album sounded like a combination of TYPE O NEGATIVE, Peter Gabriel and SISTERS OF MERCY. It just so happens that i'm a fan of the style of eighties music they are trying to emulate here, of course this is KAYO DOT so there will be a lot of surprises and experimentation.

"The Mortality Of Doves" opens with sounds pulsing in this disturbing soundscape before the vocals arrive and it settles back to a more normal sound instrumentally with fuzz. An organ solo which is far from normal arrives after after 2 minutes and ends before 4 1/2 minutes when the vocals return. The vocals by the way remind me of the band IN THE WOODS... here. Love the drum work as well. Sax before 7 minutes and the vocals will stop a minute later. Check out the bass solo that follows. It kicks back in with vocals quickly then we get this intense ending with Post-rock styled guitars.

"Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22" opens with drums as vocals and more join in quickly. A catchy number with so much going on. An eighties vibe here for sure, especially the vocals. This is so impressive instrumentally. "I push the needle, I push the needle..." then the vocals stop 5 minutes in as it becomes somewhat experimental with electronics and more. I like the background synths as this continues to the end. "Longtime Disturbance On The Miracle Mile" has this dark rhythm to start as the relaxed vocals join in. The focus is on the vocals for almost 2 minutes then that rhythm returns to the fore. The vocals return 3 minutes in in this surprisingly accessible song. A very cool tune.

"Library Subterranean" is my favourite track on here. A haunting start that turns experimental fairly quickly. Vocals after a minute as the tempo picks up. It settles back as the vocals become the focus 2 minutes in. The guitar starts to make some noise as it all becomes fuller again as the vocals step aside. Lots of fuzz here. This is dark and heavy. What an incredible instrumental section. My God! Love the mournful synths after 4 minutes that recall RUSH's "Permanent Waves" album or GENESIS self-titled record from 1983. Killer sound here! Outstanding drum work as well. Intense is the word. Sax joins the chaos after 6 1/2 minutes.

"The Assassination Of Adam" comes out of the gate with guns blazing as the vocals arrive a minute in and they are processed. Insanity! A calm after 1 1/2 minutes as the guitar solos in an unconventional manner(haha). It's experimental when the dissonant sax and more join in and processed vocals follow. So much passion. The sax kicks back in after 4 minutes as the vocals stop. Incredible! Huge bass lines too. "Spirit Photography" has relaxed vocals and a pleasant sound to start. Some high pitched vocal moments at times, man can Toby sing or what? The vocals then stop as the sax comes in before 3 minutes. It just sort of trips along until the vocals return before 8 minutes with some deep sounds as well.

I wasn't sure what to think after one listen but man once I got a grasp of what they are doing here I was totally on board and loving this stuff. I can appreciate that there are those who won't be into this dark, eighties styled music but I adore this album.

Report this review (#1369098)
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Kayo Dot is too experimental to stick with the same genre or sound for too long. A drastic change from its predecessor, Hubardo, Coffins on Io is nowhere close to being metal, borrowing extensively from eighties new wave with a touch of psychedelic influence. Accessible in comparison to previous Kayo Dot releases, it is far less noisy and harsh, instead embracing their softer side.

Primarily a mellow release, there is not a distorted guitar to be found. The vocals, all clean-sung, take up a central role and I am glad to say that they have improved a great deal since the maudlin of the Well days. Beneath heavy effects, they command the rest of the music, capable of emphasizing and strengthening the feeling already carried in each song. They bring the sprawling opener The Mortality of Doves to a grand peak, and (I point this out mainly because I find it a humorous delivery) they can sound rather sassy in the Library Subterranean line "he drew the pictures of his dream."

A lot of these songs incorporate a post-rock-type, or in a more general sense a buildup of intensity, into the new wave framework. Often times a song will follow one theme for a while until another one subtly slides in. It still shifts between the extremes of noisiness and ambience to a degree, but generally falls closer to the ambient side of the spectrum. Spirit Photography, the ten-minute closer, certainly has a strong basis in ambient, peppered with vocals and saxophone noodling, but it does build up much like the others. Most reminiscent of earlier Kayo Dot is the relatively short Assassination of Adam and the latter portion of Library Subterranean, featuring what sounds suspiciously close to a masturbatory prog instrumental section. Both chaotic and noisy, like the rest of the album, they still cannot be considered heavy or metal.

Coffins on Io places Kayo Dot's experimental tendencies of odd instrumentation, extended song lengths, and overall unconventionality, into the framework of eighties new wave to a good result, one that is more accessible, less noisy, and more vocal-based and mellow. I'm not sure where this falls for most Kayo Dot fans, but I find Coffins on Io an enjoyable release, and it would be interesting if they continued to insert their love for experimentation into the framework of other genres as well.

Report this review (#1505765)
Posted Saturday, January 2, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars Possibly the most accessible Kayo Dot album of them all, with some sections of the selections here almost sounding like comparatively conventional gothic-leaning alternative rock given an eccentric production treatment. As usual, I find Kayo Dot's approach rather hit and miss, and whilst I appreciate the extra clarity they have attained by allowing themselves to prune back their sound and resist the temptation to turn the experimentalism up to 11 all the time, at the same time that selfsame clarity doesn't reveal much to write home about, at least to my ears. I never feel like I can mark Kayo Dot too far down, because they're always technically proficient, but I do think the album is enough of a love-it-or-hate-it deal that I can't honestly rate it as highly as Hubardo.
Report this review (#1678563)
Posted Wednesday, January 11, 2017 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars 'Kayo Dot', the avant-garde progressive vehicle for Toby Driver, has always been a study of extremes and experimentation in different styles. The band has ventured from the heaviness of the album 'Hubardo' to the non-melodic sounds of 'Blue Lambency Downward'. For the album entitled 'Coffins in Io', self-released in 2014 as their 7th album, Driver again goes for a notable change in sound by combining his jazz fusion style that almost always remains the constant foundation of Kayo Dot's music, with a post-punk, gothic and electronic style while combining elements of dark wave music that had been explored by Peter Gabriel and 'Type O Negative'. Driver also said that he was influenced by film music, specifically the music of 'Blade Runner'. He wanted to stay away from anything that sounded like the previous album 'Hubardo' and this resulted in a completely different style from some of the past albums. Repetition and melodic sections are also emphasized in this album which is in direct contrast from past Kayo Dot albums, plus there are no growling vocals on this album.

Originally, Toby had wanted to release this under one of his other bands 'Vaura'. Toby gave 4 tracks to the label The Flenser, and when they reacted positively about the tracks, it was decided to released them under Kayo Dot's name, and the four songs turned into a full-fledged album. The album has 6 tracks that range from 4 minutes to almost 12 minutes, so as far as having a huge variation for track lengths, one aspect of Kayo Dot's music remained the same as past albums. The line-up for this album consists of Toby Driver on vocals, bass, synthesizer and piano; Daniel Means on alto and tenor saxophones; Ron Varod on guitar; Keith Abrams on drums; and Tim Byrnes on synthesizer.

Nearing the 12 minute mark, the album opener is 'The Mortality of Doves' and right away there is a noticeable increase in the use of synthesizers and electronics, and along with Toby's clean and somewhat airy vocals, you get a sound very close to some of Ulver's electronic music. The sound is lush and layered and very exploratory. After 4 minutes, the drums become more pronounced, the vocals more intense, yet the sound remains dark. When the sax enters at 6 minutes, the sound returns to the softer feel, but veers close to a avant-garde / jazz style, while still remaining melodic especially compared to past albums. Still, there is no feeling of compromise in the quality and complexity of the overall sound as there are still changes in the music that can't be considered standard. After 8 minutes, a heavy bass and boiling guitar rise up creating an even darker atmosphere. This guitar-driven sound along with vocals and an almost post-rock attitude continue to the end of the track.

'Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22' starts off with a fast percussion pattern, and a 80's inspired melody line comes out in Toby's vocals, with both high and low register singing. Again, there is that slightly hazy atmosphere to the song, but there is definitely more of a melodic aspect to the song. The goth and psychedelic influences are felt on this one. This could easily fit in with the dark wave sound of the late 80s, except for the fact that it is more exploratory and exceeds the 9 minute mark. There is even a feeling of the amateur vibe that you get with the goth music from that period. At about the 5 minute mark, synths become more prominent and mysterious sounding as the music takes on a different direction, but still immersed in that dark, goth sound. This continues for the rest of the track with no vocals and a repetitive theme, but with subtle changes in the foundation of the music. 'Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile' is a much shorter track and has a lighter feel to it. There is a feeling that it could fall apart at anytime, but it still carries that 80s vibe however the structure is more complicated that the standard new wave song.

'Library Subterranean' starts with the deep bass sound of 'Bauhaus' and others and soon, heavy distorted guitar chords come in followed by vocals and a hazy texture. The vocals later become clearer and the music clears up for this section, but the guitar haziness returns later with a repetitive instrumental break, like way too repetitive. As layers build, an organ comes in making the Bauhaus comparison even truer. Toby brings in a progressive section later with a complex passage. Finally, after 6 mnutes, this fuzzy chaos is broken up with the brighter sounds of the sax, and an increase in speed as the dark guitars continue to swirl around. 'The Assassination of Adam' builds more heaviness in the form of strummed thickness from guitars. The vocals have a thick feeling to them also and the sax is free to roam. All of this creates a wall of noise which gets broken down. Guitars and sax continue in free form without any rhythm for a while, then the thick sound comes back again with vocals and wild percussion. This one still has that dark goth atmosphere, but is more of a noisy experimental style.

'Spirit Photography' is the last track and is one of the longer tracks at over 10 minutes. The track is less noisy by a long shot as it starts with a bass pattern, light drums and vocals that show Toby singing higher than I have ever heard him. You still have the repeated melody, but it is definitely not a standard melody, but ventures into an operatic feel. A sultry sax joins in later and actually takes the track into some lovely territory.

This album is probably my least favorite of the Kayo Dot albums. It is a far cry from 'Choirs of the Eye' and their other, better albums. Fortunately, you have the bookending tracks 'The Morality of Doves' and 'Spirit Photography' that are excellent, but the middle part of the album really sags. I never cared much for the goth rock sound during the 80s, though there were some songs I thought were okay. This album really explores that sound, and it just doesn't seem to be as well thought out as some of their other albums. At least the two highlight tracks help keep my faith in the band, but other than that, all I can pull out of this weaker album is 3 stars. You are better off listening to 'Choirs of the Eye' if you are curious about investigating this band.

Report this review (#2216190)
Posted Monday, May 27, 2019 | Review Permalink

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