Kayo Dot | Blue Lambency Downward

cd_kayo-dot.jpgWhile Toby Driver’s voice is neither tuneful nor particularly melodious, it speaks volumes of emotion and depth.




If you don’t know Kayo Dot, they are the type of band that reinvent themselves with each album. Their debut Choirs of the Eye was a focused blast of alternative metal. On Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue, they experimented with more jazzy arrangements and an earthier texture. Their third album, Blue Lambency Downward, sees Kayo Dot moving into a fully jazz atmosphere, augmented with exotic instruments, sparse arrangements and full psychedelic freakouts.

The first change on this album is that of Toby Driver’s vocals. Previously, they were hidden deep in the songs, often acting as just another instrument. Here, they are pushed to the forefront, and this has both pros and cons. While his voice is neither tuneful nor particularly melodious, it speaks volumes of emotion and depth, especially on tracks like "The Awkward Windwheel" and "Right Hand Is the One I Want." On the latter, the vocals elevate the song to an album standout.

On other songs, it is the musical arrangements and composition that takes the front seat and drives them forward. In the title track, the strong, drum-heavy middle section is sublime, building to a powerful crescendo. When listening to album highlight "Symmetrical in Arizona," you can hear the true genius and thought that was put into the music. However, with every composition success, there are shortcomings. The title track is, for the most part, a meandering, boring mess of haphazard drumming and unaccompanied silence. Another track, "Clelia Walking," is a flute- and guitar-driven experiment in mixing classical composition and metal, but it comes off as uninspired and forced.

My main problem with Blue Lambency Downward is its huge pretentious attitude. From the oddly 12-tone-esque start of the title track to the closing strains of "Symmetrical in Arizona," it seems like Kayo Dot are trying to be deliberately dense. It’s as if they want a listener to get discouraged wading through their music. The use of nontraditional instruments, long, drawn-out solo sections and even more drawn-out stretches of empty silence seem tailor made to turn people off to the music. Kayo Dot has done their level best to make this album as impenetrable as possible.

Despite all of my whining and nitpicking, there is still enjoyment to be found in this album. It seems like I’m just not getting it, like the pieces of the puzzle aren’t quite fitting together. This album, to me, seems like the type that takes repeated listenings to appreciate. Maybe the crude heavy portions (such a departure from the finely crafted aggression of Choirs) are placed there to highlight the beauty of the melodic sections? Maybe the silence is there to make you appreciate the depth of the composition? Maybe with time will come understanding.

In summation, if you are looking for a masterfully composed, yet impenetrably deep record, you could do much worse than Kayo Dot’s Blue Lambency Downward. C | Zane Womack

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