Album Review: Kayo Dot – Blue Lambency Downwards

Artist: Kayo Dot
Album: Blue Lambency Downwards
Label: Hydra Head

You’ll notice that this review is ridiculously late in coming. I apologise, but that’s because I’ve been thinking about how to go about writing this review for far too long now. Kayo Dot is the partnership of multi-instrumentalists Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya, and together they create music that does its absolute utmost to defy description, words and categorisation.

So I wondered, as I listened to Blue Lambency Downwards, how do I possibly go about telling you, oh worthy reader, what this album is like? What ludicrous metaphors and similies could I possibly conjure up to give you a sense of what listening to Blue Lambency Downwards feels like? Quite frankly, my summer holiday addled mind is going to struggle here, but I can only give it my best shot.

The opening title track sways along like a summery breeze, which turns cold as sleigh bells are shaken in the faded background. The vocals act as another glorious instrument, skimming above the surface of the rising crescendo of cymbal crashes and quite frantic drumming. This is funny, because when you really pay attention to the song, the background is chaotic and frantic, like an MP trying to hide his expenses, but Driver’s calm vocals lull you into a catatonic state of peacefulness that glosses over the rush behind him.

The two visionaries of Kayo Dot, Toby Driver and Mia
The two visionaries of Kayo Dot, Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya.

Things get weirder, with ‘Clelia Walking’ sounding like the soundtrack to a film noir film that is solely based around slow-motion explosions of very large buildings. It goes from quaint violins to crashing guitars in a matter of moments, and keeping in mind that it’s only two people making this music it can be quite humbling.

Right Hand Is the One I Want‘ simmers in a smoky jazz-lounge style, stabs of pianos echoing among the room as sleazy clarinets whisper into your ear. ‘The Sow Submits‘ sounds like an epileptic thunderstorm having mixed feelings about the whole flashes of lighting idea, and so it flits between sparks and rumbles.

The speed really picks up with ‘The Awkward Wind Wheel‘ that compared to the patient pacing of the previous tracks, feels like it’s moving faster than a Meshuggah track. Driver abandons his croon for a slightly more traditional singing voice, whilst the instruments heard before all come together in a more solidified composition that wouldn’t sound out of place on a King Crimson record. Things are returned to that reverential pace with ‘The Useless Ladder‘, which crawls into the closing track ‘Symmetrical Arizona‘.

You can't really comprehend how Kayo Dot's music will come across live.
You can't really comprehend how Kayo Dot's music will come across live.

At ten minutes, the closer accentuates everything you’ve been listening to. The beginning is dour and slow, and when it picks up its pace it touches on those hints of malicious rock, all the while still entwining that idiosyncratic collection of instrumentation to form a closing atmosphere of dark thoughts.

When you consider this album as a whole, the best word to think of would be ‘range’. The incredible instrumental range, Driver’s awe-inspiring vocal range and the broad range of genres stepped on never really cease to amaze. Even if you cannot ‘get’ Blue Lambency Downwards (and believe me, few will) if you cannot appreciate the talent here then you should return to your Britney Spears singles.

However, despite the talent and intrigue behind the album, it does drag. This is not a fun listen, suitable for sombre and morbid frames of mind, and with this is mind Blue Lambency Downwards can grow tedious. If you have the patience and appreciation however, you’ll find Kayo Dot’s third eccentric release to be one of the most rewarding of the year.

This review is also published over at Sonic Dice.

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