Review: Kayo Dot – Blasphemy
I’m starting to feel like Toby Driver’s dog.
He holds up a stick, indicates that he intends to throw it. My ears prick up; I begin to salivate without control. He chucks the stick into the muck. I run after it like a bolt.
Sometimes I come back to him with a stick between my teeth. Sometimes I come back with nothing because he did not throw the stick. He only pretended to throw the stick. Just to fool me. It is a wicked game.
The good news is that Kayo Dot‘s new record, Blasphemy, is indeed a stick (unlike a few of the others). Ever since Driver’s solo album from last year, They Are the Shield, combined with the debut from his new electronic project, Piggy Black Cross, my faith in the stick has been renewed. The former was a synth- and string-heavy relaxation trip with a bit of a smooth jazz feel; the latter, a future-noir wet dream. Blasphemy doesn’t resemble either one, except perhaps in the deepest dregs of its avant-everything DNA. What it does sound like, upon first impression, is 2013’s Hubardo with the ends shaved off and the synth-laden drift of its midsection stretched out and psychologically altered using biochemicals harvested from mycelium.
The cover art, for starters, signals that a bold new direction is afoot. That said, if you’re expecting metal (and who wouldn’t upon seeing those foreboding crags in the fog?), you are going to be left high and dry. Blasphemy does sport a few moments of genuine heaviness, brought to you by crashing drums, distorted guitar and Driver’s beefy shouts. Mostly, though, the album is ponderous and calm, at times rather subdued. Synths are foregrounded. Varod’s guitars are peppered in sparsely; his style here reminds me of Hufnagel’s performance on the latest Vaura record: spacious and noodling, geared more toward a sci-fi film score than a rock record. The new lineup boasts two drummers (I can’t hear any spots where it would be necessary for them to play simultaneously, so maybe they alternate?), and their work is tom-and-crash-heavy, throwing the beat around in tricky time signatures or in simple-yet-idiosyncratic grooves. Through it all, Driver’s vocal narrations hardly let up. Ever since his last solo record, he seems to have reached a new peak of confidence; his intonation is as good as it has ever been. As is so often the case of late, his voice wanders from one listless melody to the next, as if he is searching for some half-remembered tune that came to him in a dream. Here and there, the search snaps into sharp focus with a voice-actor quality, as if he were not just singing but actually acting in a stage production. (Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s goofy).
Every listen I’ve given to Blasphemy has been ultimately pleasant and revealed new details, new dimensions, new happy accidents. And yet five minutes after each listen I can’t remember a damn thing I just heard. It’s a rambling album, a directionless sprawl, centerless and without conclusion. The middle three or four songs is where things really start to blur together, one song wandering off into the fog, getting lost, forcing the next song to go out looking for it (only to become lost itself), and so on. I can’t find anything too specific to gripe about except for the gaudy auto-tuned vocals in “An Eye for a Lie” and the entirety of “Turbine Hook and Haul,” which is just…there.
As an immersive experience in a fully-formed sound world, Blasphemy works. It’s probably even one of those albums best consumed under the auspice of a relaxing (or mind-bending) substance of your choice. I’m taking it in once more as we speak with vodka, seltzer and a splash of cran, and a fine feeling of not especially giving a shit about anything or anyone has settled over me. Like a fog. I guess that’s a running theme here: fog. And sticks.
So, I chased this stick into the muck and brought it back for you. It is a good stick. Woof.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell