Kayo Dot – Coffins on Io (2014)

The new Kayo Dot album is not something one simply ignores. To be fair, this is true of most of their recordings – I’ve always either loved them to bits or simply not understood them, but I’ve never disliked them. However, Coffins on Io definitely falls into the first category for me. I’ll try to talk about Kayo Dot a third time, without repeating myself if possible.

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In a way, Coffins on Io is a continuation of an older stylistic expedition for Kayo Dot. Their 2010 album, Coyote, drew heavily on an ’80s, goth/post-punk aural sensibility – powerful bass lines driving the songs, ethereal, plaintive vocals, meandering, dark song structures. Many of those choices persist on Coffins on Io, but it is clear that the intent has morphed subtly. Where Coyote was, for lack of a better word, a „concept album” centering on a very bleak theme which acted as a great catalyst for the return to the ’80s stylistic choice, Coffins on Io almost seems like an aftermath to that, like a take-off from the platform constructed by Coyote.

I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood – I doubt the two albums have much in common save for the strong references to the ’80s aesthetic. It just feels as though Toby Driver’s sources of inspiration are taking on a chronological symmetry. Coffins on Io seems to be built around aspects of darkwave, of electronic music such as Tangerine Dream, on the ruins of prog-rock as it was crumbling under its huge mass at the onset of the ’80s. It is glorious to see how these nuclei morph into the unique Kayo Dot molecule, yet again, so much more than the sum of its parts. Kayo Dot will not be confined, will not be tamed – it comes as a great surprise for me that after 2013’s Hubardo (an extremely dense, staggeringly difficult album), Kayo Dot would shift their attention and create Coffins on Io, although it probably shouldn’t at this point. They are the most mercurial band I’ve ever known, and there are no guarantees and no promises.

Coffins on Io has a steadily ascending learning curve, as it were. The more you advance, the more challenging the songs become, but it never asks more than it can give, and it’s never unfair to the listener. There’s also a certain cyclical quality to the album (not unlike their 2012 release – Gamma Knife, but less categorically), where the start and the finish seem to have more in common with each other than with what happens in between. Toby Driver is really on top of his compositional game on this album, and not only that, but he brings forth a completely new vocal technique – his remarkable falsetto, completely replacing the metal growls he would use on previous releases for variation of texture. Overall, the commitment to the chosen aesthetic seems more complete this time around, and Kayo Dot seem to be drawing more on their own experience as well, with gentle, accepting nods to previous sonic laboratories and forays they’ve engaged in. The effect is reassuring and welcome. I’m also glad to see that Coffins on Io is no longer self-released – I remember reading interviews with Toby Driver from the Gamma Knife, Hubardo years, and the strain of having to deal with self-releasing records seemed to weight heavily on him. It feels as though that weight has lifted, at least partially, and I feel Coffins on Io benefits from that.

If you’re curious, if you’re fascinated by the way old shapes can take new meaning, if you’re nostalgic without being anachronistic, then listen to Coffins on Io (and to Kayo Dot in general). Seriously, they’re one of the freshest, most thoughtful, deeply relevant music makers out there nowadays. Enjoy!

P.S.: Three years ago today I started ZaRecords. I honestly didn’t know for how long I would be able to make it last, and I still don’t. For now, it’s still lingering, half way between an obsession and an afterthought. Thank you all for sticking around for so long.

O.Children – O.Children (2010)

This band offers beautiful shallowness of a kind one can’t help admire. Listening to them is like watching models step down a catwalk, morose and glamorous. You might not care about fashion, but on a purely physical – in a theatrical sense – way, you can’t help but admire the focus they seem to project, the dedication and sense of self-importance they radiate. Of course, this has always been one of the more appealing characteristics of everything goth. The sense of skin-deep drama, the thrill of playing a part, of putting on a costume and blurring the lines between you and your character. I’ve always felt there’s this “fake it ’till you make it” desperation about goths and it’s something I personally feel drawn to, and even though O.Children isn’t a goth band “per se”, their influences show up in all the right places.

The contrast between singer Tobi O’Kandi’s deep, resonating, spectacularly sexy voice and the frozen, digital melodies the band weave is perhaps the main attraction this outfit has going for them. As I said, influences are very easily discernible, but this tension transcends all of them. What’s more, O.Children manage a very alluring mix between two apparent extremes on a thematic level. On the one hand, you have the goth quality, which induces visions and moods of night-time cities, rainy and cold, in which one might roam for hours, bumping into people as if they were objects – a particular sense of alienation and of being addicted to loneliness. And on the other hand, there’s an explosion as if every once in a while a wall of multicolored neon lights light up and everything makes sense and everyone’s connected and solitude is just irony. And none of it really matters very much in the long run, so no worries there, it’s just about recognizing how pretty a frown can be, for a little while.

If O.Children have a shortcoming it’s the lyrics. Sometimes they really feel forced, a bit grating and a bit gratuitous. However, I’m not much for lyrics in the first place and never have been, so for me it’s no big deal. And it’s not even a constant issue, some songs really have an added sense of drama and urgency which stems from the words. But, bottom line, nobody should care what a voice like O’Kandi’s sais, as long as it keeps saying it.

So, now, so close to Halloween, in this month of celebratory decay, I (broken)heartily recommend O.Children, the perfect band to try and reenact the constant costume party of adolescence. Also, I enjoy the fact that it’s the first time I get the chance to post a full-fledged video and some very good live footage!