From the offset it’s apparent that Coyote aren’t your average band. Opening with sparse guitar, jazzy bass and meandering keys that give way to Ryan Hamiliton’s incomprehensible murmurs and an organ whose sound lies halfway between church and haunted house, Outsides doesn’t get any more conventional as it goes on. Hell, even the sleeve is strange, with the album title twisted and twirled almost beyond recognition before a background of eerily distorted landscape.
What first hits you about Coyote is that organ, or at least that keyboard, coaxed into acting out the Church’s musical courier of choice. Whether skulking in the background or pushing to the fore, it is inescapable due to its sheer unorthodoxy, coating more conventional guitar riffs with an otherworldly sheen, the first encounters with “Quietly” bringing to mind retro dungeon-scampering videogame Castlevania more than practice rooms and smoky bars. A few listens later, however, and what was hitherto a conspicuous discolouration of Coyote’s sound becomes simply another part of the melodic patchwork that makes up Outsides, in the same way that Tyondai Braxton’s yelped glossolallia has become an integral part of Battles’ sound rather than trill obtrusion.
Outsides an addictive album even before you adjust to its peculiarities, however. This effect might be borne partially of intrigue, perhaps, but on the whole it is Coyote’s sonic qualities that keep you coming back; the clashing maelstrom of sounds that scarcely veils a melodic heart. You have “White Fox”‘s intricate keys, for instance, intertwining with a thinly distorted guitar that ranges from sparing twangs to cathartic riffing, or the more composed stomp of “Tea Kettle”, whose keys and guitar march in line to Jeff Mooridian’s authoritarian drum beat. “Old School Gratitude”, meanwhile, is a brooding scuzz-rocker, harking back to Bleach-era Nirvana fed through a drinking session with the Black Keys, which, as if to exemplify Coyote’s strength in diversity, follows on from “Headlights”, the most melodically sweet moment on the record, hurling harmonies to-and-fro between the guitar and keys.
And then there are the vocals. At times loitering deep in the mix, letting the music do the talking, at others leaping to the fore with unprecedented zeal, Hamilton’s chants, wails and sighs are a persistent draw. While “White Fox” begins as a cryptic hymnal, Hamilton’s mumbles indecipherable below the soaring organ, “Tea Kettle” sees this develop into a pronounced chant, before becoming a visceral sermon, spat out on “Old School Gratitude”. If there is an air of psychosis pervading over his drawl, it is one that is accompanied at all times with pitch-perfection, as “Gala of Spades” demonstrates, with Hamilton coming across as Thom Yorke starring in a sinister pantomime.
Indeed, there is an unhinged darkness about Outsides that extends far further than its enigmatic sleeve. It’s as if someone had taken My Morning Jacket, plonked them in the middle of dark, densely forested landscape and told them to fend for themselves. It is this landscape—these Outsides—and the resultant mania that would ensue, that this album soundtracks, distorting conventional song structures and instrumentation beyond recognition. The production here is appropriately murky and, though one or two of the album’s ten tracks could do with a little sharpening up—the latter half of the album perhaps does not make as big an impression as the first—generally it suits Coyote’s nature.
Sadly, Coyote become a three-piece earlier this year when bassist Trevor Butler was tragically killed in a road accident. If Outsides, completed shortly before his death, is to stand as his legacy, then it is one to be proud of; a bold, adventurous and often surreal exploration of musical waters hitherto remained mostly untouched. Time will tell if Coyote continue in Butler’s absence, but in the meantime we are inclined to hope that they do, for the song-writing and invention shown in their debut full-length makes for a genuinely rewarding listen.
// Notes from the Road
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