Kayo Dot is surely a demanding band, profound and uncompromising, requiring great patience and sensitivity from the listener. Listening to them is like partaking in an exhausting and yet eminently satisfying intellectual debate, full of eloquence, disagreement and flashes of epiphany, poetic and philosophical quotes, and obscure references. Kayo Dot is pretentious and fully aware of that, but it isn’t gratuitous pretentiousness, they’re not doing it for the sake of humiliating anyone, but rather because it’s natural for them, it’s a well-integrated aspect of their experience, which they convey in a civilized, honest manner. I definitely enjoy their attitude once in a while, to such an extent that I can safely say they’re one of my favorite bands, and have been so from the first time I heard them.
The first thing Kayo Dot do is simply smack you over the head with their uncanny ability to superimpose such apparently contradictory modes of expression as classical music in its most delicate, chamber-orchestra form, and extreme metal at its most dissonant and berserk peaks. This acts almost like an ars poetica in their case, it’s the first clue that they’re proposing something more than collections of songs, reaching boldly into the realm of the manifesto. It’s as if the albums themselves are merely shining examples of the validity of their aesthetic standpoint. Shifting from simple, acoustic guitar driven melodies, remarkably vibrant as they are, to electronic distortions of mastermind Toby Driver’s voice, to explosions of sound bellowed forth by their quasi-orchestra and finally to complete, unrelenting deconstruction via so much sound it becomes noise, Kayo Dot treats each song as a form of architecture in 4D, that is to say, from inception to ultimate ruin.
Their ability to follow the complex, tangled threads of their own songs from one knot to the other with dazzling ease and grace is just staggering, and makes me feel Toby Driver is probably one of the most gifted musical minds of our generation, able to pick up on the slightest vibration and mood proposed by the sonic boom of his more monumental passages and simply coax it forward in the next, sweet and delicate stretch of the song, in such a way as to make the pieces feel like tense, phantasmagorical journeys through a vibrant, scintillating web of emotion and drama. Just like in a dream state, you never know when the whole thing will come crashing down on top of you, since every path you take seems endless for a little while, the potential in each musical measure allowing for vast exploration. Of course, in spite of what one might think when seeing the sheer length of these songs, Kayo Dot is never self-indulgent, so the shift towards downfall or sublimation will come, sooner than later, but the bottom line is every musical phrase makes you feel like it could sustain your interest indefinitely.
Choirs of the Eye is Kayo Dot’s debut album, although Toby Driver and many of the members of the original line-up had been working together since 1996 in a band called Maudlin of the Well, so it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise their sound is so well-refined, so robust. In spite of this, I still feel in awe at the way Kayo Dot manages to sound completely armored and sure of its footing, reminding me of the myth concerning the goddess Athena, born fully armored and armed from Zeus’ head. She was a goddess of both war and wisdom, and I believe that domain definitely applies to Kayo Dot as well – destructive and fiercely creative at the same time, this band makes music feel a bit like ritual, a bit like a theatrical representation of some overwhelming cosmogony myth. The ebb and flow of sound on this record, the way their frequency slices time up into sluggish areas and furious, hectic stretches leads me to reflect on the way matter behaved, changed, morphed and stabilized from the Big Bang onward, it brings into focus hypotheses and principles of theoretical physics, as seen through my dilettante eye, more poetically than physically. I would go so far as to call this music “total”, unbound by extrinsic aesthetic considerations and following only a deeply internalized, self-sufficient mode of thought, again, poetic, or maybe oneiric. But I seem to be overtaken by a form of linguistic pretentiousness (even more so than usually) when trying to talk about this album, so I should probably stop while there’s still time.
I just found out Kayo Dot released a new album a mere three weeks ago, so don’t be surprised if I end up fawning over it soon enough. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the discussion proposed by Choirs of the Eye, and I’ll see you soon.