You really can’t pigeonhole Kayo Dot as a band. Calling them metal (and this would make sense, given their tenure at Hydra Head Records) is inaccurate at even the loosest definition. Avant-garde seems a little too pretentious. Free-form jazz is only a means of describing the stream of consciousness that seems to characterize their compositions. They are all of these things and yet, by some curious metaphysical principle, none of them at the same time. The press sheet for this release calls them “goth fusion”, a somewhat nebulous term in itself. I think that’s about as close to the mark the genre categorization is going to get.
Coyote is their fourth record, so at some level they’re obviously doing something right in attaining the staying power needed to map out a career in the age of prescription drugs and meaningless awards from MTV. That said, there is something very personal and individualized about Kayo Dot that elevates them to a sort of cultish echelon only a select few see the true beauty of. Their sound has always flirted with, if not outright hit on, an off-the-cuff, jam-session quality that emphasizes the creation of a sonic landscape textured by some Byzantine aesthetic that amounts to an inside joke. Listening to them is like being the odd man out at a social function, a stranger desperately trying to interpret a conversation between longtime friends of which he knows nothing. The words, and even the general experiences, seem familiar, but the internalization and visualization in the proverbial mind’s eye is utterly alien.
So when the concept behind Coyote – and this is a concept album, make no mistake – revolves around the story of Kayo Dot’s terminally-ill friend Yuko Sueta, there is an immediate sense of trespassing on something sacred and intimate. The songs revolve around a narrative of the moribund with minimum detail that makes the few points of emphasis seem that much more poignant, compelling, and revelatory. As if that weren’t enough, the sparseness of the guitar, the mournful sound of the horns and strings, the crisp pace of the drums, and song titles like “Whisper Infeffable” and “Abyss Hinge” all perfectly indicate the unburdening of a loved one’s secrets in the final moments before death. The vocals are hauntingly surreal in their infrequent turn as well, further compounding the sense of being adrift in a melancholic and foreboding film-noir dream.
Therein is the double-edged sword of Kayo Dot and Coyote. The same quality that gives them such a unique flavor also makes them terrifically challenging to absorb and enjoy. The band has purposefully created a very specific niche of sound that only a limited group will understand and appreciate. That being the case, this is not abstract for abstract’s sake. Kayo Dot have crafted something meaningful for themselves that exudes an emotive purity, an untainted earnestness, that most bands can never hope to achieve. As stark and inaccessible as Coyote is, that kind of comprehensive integrity is worthy of respect.
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