Kayo Dot
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Kayo Dot

Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Band Rock Metal


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The best kept secret in music


It's heartening that so much of what purportedly has its roots in the 'Metal scene' nowadays is leaving behind the ancient trappings, the effete machismo, the hair, the tattoo parlour drivel and the Teutonic fonts and monikers associated with the genre, bringing with it only... the Metal. Kayo Dot (formerly and perhaps unwisely known as Maudlin of the Well), are a case in point. Although they vaguely arise from/have connotations with Metal/Goth, they're something else altogether. They're floating out there with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Animal Collective, although vocalist and driving force Toby Driver occupies his own niche in that particular corner of deep space.

Choirs of the Eye takes the bipolar principle established by the likes of Nirvana to new extremes. These five tracks luxuriate agonisingly, convulse between near silence and primal, shrieking noise. Take opening track "Marathon," whose piledriving Metal is a pendulum swing away from layers of orchestration like crushed rose petals. Kayo Dot are hardly the first to engage in this sort of musical push and pull but rarely, if ever, has it been carried off with such concentrated beauty in place of squallish petulance or self-indulgence, pomp or preening.

"A Pitcher of Summer" is as heady as strawberry wine before noon, meandering quietly through glades before more sudden storms, long on intensity, short on stamina. These constant disruptions, however, prevent you from being lulled into ambient reverie and keep you alive to the lovely thunder of it all. "The Manifold Curiosity" and "Wayfarer" are similarly turbulent but again, the throb is as irresistible as it is disquieting. One moment you're suspended in a womb of prenatal bliss, the next, bursting out into the world in a Caesarian frenzy of Metal. One moment you're in some unearthly corner of Paradise with no idea how you arrived there, the next, the sky has turned black and the rain is coming down in stair rods.

Tzadik's executive producer John Zorn apparently urged Driver to think of this album in compositional terms. Driver, it seems, shrewdly resisted this pretension. More important than the structure here is his innate feel for tone poetry, as affirmed on "The Antique," whose fragile and shortlived piano passages and burdgeoning, swelling chords glisten with the tension of waiting for the bomb to drop. Utterly exquisite, utterly alive, utterly apocalyptic, this is an album with which you may well fall hopelessly in love. - WIRE Magazine, Issue 239, January 2004

Lots of heavy music aspires to "symphonic" portent, doing everything from invoking mythic imagery to actually employing orchestras or chamber groups to chug alongside the long-haired shredders. In contrast to these fairly weak gestures, Kayo Dot - formed after the breakup of progressive metal outfit Maudlin of the Well, several of whose members perform here - does something truly remarkable: they actually concoct a vibrant, meaningful, and - yes - hard-rocking synthesis of these genres. There's no trite reliance on chugga-chugga guitars and drilling double kick drums (not that there's anything wrong with that), but instead there's music which has the heaviness of a persistently dark cloud. Jangling guitars, portentous silences, muffled or screamed voices all bespeak the influence of serious heavy dramatists like Swans, Neurosis, Oxbow, or Isis, bands as attuned to the mood and inflection as to the cheap adolescent thrill of violence. But of course, what makes the Dot even wilder is its instrumentation: in addition to the core group of former Yusef Lateef student (!) Toby Driver (guitar, cello, bass, bells, and electronics, as well as being the group's apparent leader), Greg Massi (guitar and voice), Nicolas Kyte (bass and voice), and Sam Gutterman (drums and voice), there is a panoply of musicians who you might expect to find in a chamber ensemble rather than in such a, well, loud group - there are flutes, clarinets, saxophones, French horns, violins, and other sundry instruments. The ensemble deliver amazingly rich and varied compositions (apparently with strict guidelines that nonetheless permit or encourage improvisation) which touch a lot of bases, from progressive metal to Bitches Brew-era Miles to Ligeti. I'm not blowing smoke; this is polytonal hardcore chamber improv. For every explosion of white noise or thunderous pulse, there is a coolin flow of water or a fantastically ornate passage which conjures images of the state music of an unknown but dying empire. And, as if that weren't enough, there are exquisite jewels like "A Pitcher of Summer," where Driver's sweet crooning recalls Jeff Buckley. Somehow these folks make it work, make it fit together and simply sound like Kayo Dot (although Godspeed You! Black Emperor comparisons will be inevitable). Who knows if, as a like-minded friend/listener queried, they can pull it off live. But goodness knows I'll be checking it out. - Signal to Noise Magazine, Issue 33, Spring 2004

In a perfect world, artists like John Zorn would be allowed to decide which bands should be listened to. After two decades of challenging boundaries of aural art with various collectives and conceptual projects such as Microscopic Septet, Masada, and Naked City, Zorn is among the undisputed masters of hidden genius. Chances are, if John Zorn made it or likes it, you won't get it. At least not at first. Which is why his own Tzadik label remains among the most overlooked institutions in contemporary music. Almost nothing that comes out on this label is immediately satisfying. At best it merely disturbs the listener on the first spin. And Kayo Dot are no exceptions. Forming from the ashes of prog metal underground heroes Maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot's music is far removed from the former band's sound as well as from virtually anything else you're likely to hear. With heavy metal instrumentation cascading with layers of sound created by keyboards, flute, clarinet, and saxophone, nearly excruciatingly subtle passages of lulls and distant melodies frequently erupt in a storm of chaos and claustrophobic textures of tension and impending doom. Toby Driver's vocals are especially worthy of mention, as he effortlessly shifts from a Jeff Buckley-esque refined tone to that of a wounded Sigur Ros and then to a black metal scream that would sound at home on any number of metal records from Norway or Sweden. Choirs of the Eye is easily one of the most evocative and genuinely experimental albums to come out in quite some time, and the small amount of buzz the band has generated recently is beyond inadequate. Soaringly melodic and undeniably evil in the way parents and religious groups could never understand, Choirs of the Eye is as moving as it is hideous and hedonistic. (Tzadik) - Performer Magazine


>Kayo Dot - Choirs of the Eye (Tzadik, 2003)
>As-yet-untitled upcoming release (Robotic Empire, 2005)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Kayo Dot stands out in its masterful and compelling use of instrumentation. While other bands flirt with awkward childish diatonic melodies, Kayo Dot skillfully uses instruments such as trumpet, violin, keyboard, and clarinet to actually make a statement. It is all part of an organic process that enhances the composition, and exists inside of it to drive the music to further excellence. Every range of sound is explored, evoking images from a gentle spring walk amongst rolling hills to bombastic earthquakes. Toby Driver's vocals caress the listener into complacency until the next moment of sonic frenzy arrives, and then the listener understands that this band truly transcends genres such as metal, avant-garde, indie, and folk.