Let’s get something out of the way first: yes, we slept on this album review. Yes, we shouldn’t have taken this long to cover one of the most powerful releases of the year. But, here we are and it’s a good thing we are. There are a few albums that have been released in the last decade or so that capture sensations and thoughts that stem from living in a modern world; Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s F # A # ∞ is one of them and so is the album at hand, Kayo Dot‘s Coffins On Io. We haven’t evoked the name of God Speed You! in vain either, for these albums share a very interesting meeting point and that is landscape. Both describe a bleak, desolate place and use music to guide us through its narrowing and winding ways.
It’s obvious that when covering a Kayo Dot album, the first thing one must needs address is the vocal performance of one Toby Driver, the beating heart of the band. His singing is also the beating heart of this album and in its case, it beats somber, slow and almost lazily. His half drawl, drawing on timbres that originate in the alternative scene of the 80’s, is enchanting and really servers to keep the bleakness and down-tempo quality of this album interesting at all times. This is most powerfully heard on closing track ‘Spirit Photography’, a tripped down song musically which places the weight completely on Driver’s shoulders. He delivers expertly, with a range which draws from a complete range of emotions.
The instrumentation itself, while far from upbeat or what we would ‘complex’, is impressive in other fields: the compositional skills needed to weave such a subtle album together are tremendous. This could have easily fallen apart into six different tracks but they are instead tied together into an album by that same geographical quality we described earlier: it’s as if we’re travelling across this dreary, urban, decaying landscape and each song is a different aspect of it.
From the unbelievably placed saxophone near the end of opening track ‘Mortality of Doves’ to the frantic synths of ‘Library Subterranean’, placing this album within a genre is ultimately futile. One might be able to throw some words out there: avant-garde, 80’s dark pop, even progressive rock at parts. But these words don’t capture the essence of the music and composition here. Instead of focusing on one type of structure or genre it instead focuses on a group of emotions; sadness, despair, quiet, pensive rage and longing. It is a testimony to the band and their abilities that this full range is displayed across one album.
Coffins On Io then is not an album you play in order to enjoy one musical passage or another. Certainly, there are technically impressive parts, like the frantic and over-laid chaos that is ‘The Assassination of Adam’, but even in those the music itself is not the point. The point of this album is to feel. To feel what it’s like to be lost, to wonder strange places and think odd thoughts. In that sense, it is an important contribution to the current avant-garde scene but most of all, it is a joy and a challenge and a treat for your musical soul.
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Kayo Dot’s Coffins On Io gets…