Kayo Dot: Coffins on Io

The avant-metal band's latest album: traveling in one big loop.
Kayo Dot
Coffins on Io

Toby Driver seems concerned with endings, and how best to get to them. Over the years, his songs’ beginnings and conclusions have become ill-defined- vague concepts that eventually turn into something else, but this process takes awhile. Each song eventually reaches some place, but it’s never quite the place you expected. This process is, expectedly, as tiring as it is rewarding.

It’s not like Kayo Dot aren’t allowed to mess with us by now. I became hopelessly hooked on Toby Driver’s music once I really noticed the chords within it, how they seemed to connect to each other in the most interesting way. I, like many others, sank my teeth in because I loved the distinct melodies crafted by Driver’s widely celebrated first group, Maudlin of the Well. The band’s songs seemed simple on some level, but there was still something about them that felt ethereal, like I’d heard them at a different point in time without realizing it. Perhaps that was the aim, considering Driver has publicly stated that much of the inspiration from his work stems from the dreams he’s had. The process of writing music for him has always seemed to be less an act of conjuring ideas than it is of recreating ideas that already existed in the universe, of sounds and feelings that have been experienced before but have remained unexpressed.

The problem with dreams is that they don’t always make a whole lot of sense. If lucid dreaming did continue to fuel Driver’s music with Kayo Dot in the late ‘00s, then he must’ve had some perplexing experiences at night. Albums like Gamma Knife were fundamentally compelling because of how bizarre they were, shirking logical song structure and offering sheer spontaneity in its place. I never really tried to understand Gamma Knife– not because I had anything against it, but because it always has felt like an album written for someone else- perhaps only for Toby Driver. And then while life moved forward, it’s possible that Driver’s dreams became more universal from that point forward. Or maybe I’m just trying to solve the riddle of causation in something that exists just because. Such is the act of attempting to understand music born from the shadows- you can’t prove its origins, even when being able to do so would make things a hell of a lot easier. So with an album like Coffins on Io, all you have is what the artist gave you- and in this case, the most telling attribute of Kayo Dot’s new sound is the newfound approach to structure.

The reverb-cloaked introduction to “The Mortality Of Doves” feels like a bridge between concepts, and like too much of a non-event to front an entire Kayo Dot album- much less the one succeeding 2012’s gargantuan Hubardo. Coffins on Io begins without as much as a stir, and this is the way most of the record operates- in movements, a ceaselessly forward-moving direction. Terms like ‘forward’ doesn’t mean the same thing to Kayo Dot and you and me, though, which must be why songs like the opening one seem to travel in one big loop. And considering the certifiable direction to this record, it follows that when diversions unfold in Coffins on Io, they’re huge. The tail end of “Offramp Cycle” is an almost impalpable beginning to a seismic shift, a momentary lapse in the whole foundation of this record because it does one crucial thing: it stops searching. It’s the singular goal Kayo Dot seem like they wanted to reach by the end of the song, and now that they’ve located it, they’re satisfied. And it’s so good that by the time Driver and company have repeated the same damn thing for more than four minutes, it still doesn’t feel like enough. It’s by this very moment that Kayo Dot have finally made me comfortable with their music again- the same solace I found in those opening moments of Maudlin of the Well’s Bath, it comes back to me. Such moments on this record are, of course, fleeting.

The most bizarre thing about Coffins on Io is that while it’s a melodically confusing release, its feet are firmly planted on the ground. It’s an incredibly structured album- each song progresses by subtly taking steps forward, nothing more. This newfound consistency responds directly to many of the qualms that the last decade has brought to the surface for Kayo Dot, although it’s impossible to deny the possibility that this stylistic adjustment occurred subconsciously for the group. But even though I can follow a song like “The Assassination Of Adam”, I can’t find myself immersed in the journey it implies. The song is indifferent to the listener, and will do what it wants to do regardless of who’s listening. And this makes sense, considering the only thing we legitimately know about this album: it is an intended representation of ‘80s film noir, a genre most widely known for its startling apathy towards main events. According to the genre, it isn’t the filmmaker’s job to project their feelings onto what may be an exceedingly traumatic tale- and this feeling of removal, this unique brand of ennui latches onto the heels of Coffins on Io. Kayo Dot’s newest album marvelously recreates the aesthetic by which it was most influenced, and it discovers some exciting ideas when it slows down for awhile, but the rest of Coffins on Io is a journey that still can feel so much unlike our own.

RATING 6 / 10