I’ve made no secret of my love of Kayo Dot. In fact, I’ve probably mentioned it often enough that some people probably wish I’d shut up about this band they’ve never heard of. Well, I say some people; I only really know one guy who reads this blog (and he likes novelty pirate-themed hip-hop and novelty pirate-themed power metal), but my stats page tells me I get a fair amount of hits, so either Murray’s reading the blog multiple times a day, or some people are landing here who I don’t know. The stats also seem to suggest I’ve been referred by twitter feeds of actual Kayo Dot members, which is kind of unfathomably weird to me. Anyway…
I love Kayo Dot, and one of the things I enjoy most about the band is the way the music of each release is structured and composed in such a way as to feature a specific set of instrumentation. I also happen to enjoy the specific aesthetic that composer Toby Driver tends toward in his work, presumably only semi-consciously. By that I mean that whilst always sounding different, there is some thread running through all of his work, which I find super-compelling. I listed Coyote as my number one album of last year. So prepare to have your flabber well and truly ghasted when I tell you that, yes, I think this EP they also released last year, is even better than that album. Maybe I’m skipping ahead here though.
Did you know there’s a band called Kayo Dot, that I quite like? Did you know that Kayo Dot put out an EP at the tail-end of last year, that contains only one song? I know, what a con right? NO, NOT RIGHT, I WAS BEING SARCASTIC.
Stained Glass consists of a 20 minute composition, built largely around vibraphones, electric piano and guitar. There is also a “song” in the front end of this. There is a fairly substantial set of lyrics here by one Jason Byron. Like a number of Kayo Dot tracks, not all of the text is actually used in the piece, but it all appears on the back of the CD sleeve. It seems to paint a picture of some kind of defiance of the Christian God. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but it opens with a pretty effective biblical quote:
“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
Vocally, Toby Driver is something of a chameleon, this time employing a quiet breathy affection. As the song opens, he’s surrounded by woodwinds aplenty, echoing his vocal melodies. Then after a couple minutes, a controversial new element enters, a super-distorted little high-pitched synth solo. I love it, and the way it seems almost disconnected to the bed of organic bell-like sounds and overpowers the piece momentarily. Then, after a little fuzz-bass noodle, the track shifts hues and the synth becomes subsumed in a host of other elements, violin, louder vibraphone and keys, and actual bells.
There is a kind of nebulous feel to Stained Glass, for much of it approaches silence, and the core instruments spend some time tinkling away in an abstract fashion not taking any traditional shape. Trey Spruance has a guitar solo, and assuming it’s the long solo in the middle, it’s buried deep in the mix, swamped in reverb as if he’s playing his guitar down in the basement of an old church. There’s a haunting sense of distance and otherness about it. The middle section consists largely of various percolating instruments, slowly changing shade and hue, while the aforementioned guitar wails away under the floor. It reminds me of what King Crimson tried to do in the improvisational part of Moonchild, except far far more compelling and successful.
As this proceeds, a clarinet starts breathing and somehow imposing the simplest little shape, a small fragment of a melody. Things slowly seem to build order. Then comes my favourite part. That screeching synth from earlier re-emerges and starts ripping through the hovering mist of all the other instruments and eventually develops into a full-blown solo that I find positively haunting. I remember one day I was walking along the River Clyde here in Glasgow and it was overwhelming. I almost felt like I wanted to jump in the river or something. It’s the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth, of a dying star, and in that one exhausting outburst it burns up all its energy and all becomes quiet. Then, we are led out of Stained Glass with a more composed ending, a dark reflection of its opening. The simple trio of instruments at the piece’s core play us out.
Okay, I know that was a very descriptive review, but the running time is only 20 minutes and there’s only one track, so it’s hard to strike a balance. I guess the issue is that it’s really something you need to hear for yourself. Just reading about it does not give you any idea about what’s really going on. It’s very much a journey, an experience, and a much more singular one than any previous Kayo Dot – which is saying quite a lot. The musical arc here is studied, but organic. It ebbs and flows.
One of many reasons I don’t give scores is that it’s really hard to make an objective claim about something like music. Right now I like this EP better than I like Coyote, which I loved. So is it therefore better? Worthy of a higher score? No. I generally write reviews of music I like simply because I want to share that with people. You don’t need to know it’s 5 stars or 7 stars or 6.2 or some other arbitrary number. I like it a lot, and as is almost always the case with nearly every band I listen to, as it is the latest thing I’ve purchased by them, it will be the thing I listen to most till the next one comes out.
Again, because I don’t know who reads this, I have to assume some people who are reading this don’t have the ears, the patience, the sense of musical discovery that personally drives me toward music like this. Those that do, you ought to check it out.