Release: 10/14/2014 via The Flenser
Rating: 6/7 stars
“What the fuck am I listening to?” has always been the common response of my friends who hear Kayo Dot’s discography playing in the car and rightly so; as avant-garde metal, it’s very much an acquired taste, like 100% cocoa. They hate it, they hate the transience of the howling and murmured vocals, they hate the minimalism, they hate the flute.
They hated it. Their question, organic as ever, has been posed several times to the stream of Kayo Dot’s next album, the ultra retro-futuristic Coffins on Io. The words have, however, assumed a new tone for the new music, a tone as one uses in contemplating a supreme majesty, one which is distorted by a piercing rainbow of feelings and which is prepared to remain forever on its knees. Something begs to call it beauty despite the album’s picaresque concept in themes of murder, shame, highways and toxic deserts, and something wants to say it’s the adrenaline of running towards an active volcano. Either way, there’s a crippling electricity in hearing this abstraction of the 80’s motifs of Peter Gabriel, Sisters of Mercy, Cold Cave — technically, Wesley Eisold has only been working as Cold Cave since 2007, but — and, apparently rather influential, Blade Runner. Between this and Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore) released in August, I’ve been talking like my dad when he listens to certain songs by Led Zeppelin while sipping his lite beer: “Wow. This is so beautiful.”
Like every prior Kayo Dot release, there is a definite coherence of sound and genre across the work. Like almost every album ever, there are songs stronger than others here. Yet each song, all of them rare, baffles by its exhibition of technical and compositional mastery. Founder and frontman Toby Driver sings simultaneously in fiat and shivers, uttering out solid, palpable injury as he glissades in falsetto, as though his voice is performing an interpretive dance throughout the album, competing with the saxophone to see who can cry harder. The instrumentation under him proceeds just as passionately, with the logic of acupuncture to guide its wild magic to a point of tireless charm. This union of math and heart comes out the strongest in general favorites “The Mortality of Doves” and “Library Subterranean,” two songs of operatic virtue so immense it’s almost sexual. “Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22” retains a drip of forbidden climax in its furling drums and melody of a body in the backseat while “Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile” and “Assassination of Adam” come across the ear as cathartic bursts, the former of experimentation and the latter of playing chameleon. Album closer “Spirit Photography” faces an oblivion of many senses, releasing a final, starved rain of sad sounds unto death.
On the whole Kayo Dot has commenced and killed a renaissance in about fifty minutes. Bubbling and pensive, Coffins on Io inspires nostalgia even for listeners who didn’t exist in the reference period, describing a once-future to the effect of introspection. Thirty years from now our concept of the far-off will be different, will have changed with society and culture, and our present will, like the 80’s, become an impersonal toy for exploration, not experience. C’est la vie.