Kayo Dot
Blue Lambency Downward

This was probably my most anticipated album of 2008. After all, not many albums have managed to move me as much as 2003’s Choirs of The Eye. Though a challenging listen, the melodies and structures soon became identifiable and revealed a complexity of emotion rarely explored. 2006’s Dowsing Anenome With Copper Tongue seemed to be a departure and delved into the weird and avant-garde territory. Some parts were instantly identifiable, some took a bit longer to wrap my brain around, and honestly some moments I still just don’t get. Regardless, I feel it’s worth the time, and I pop it in once in a while when I’m up for the journey.

Blue Lambency Downward has taken a sharp left turn in relation to Kayo Dot’s previous albums. Gone are Toby Diver’s raw, emotional vocal performances. There is absolutely no screaming (who can forget the primal rage from “Gemini Becoming The Tripod”?) or pianissimo musings (like in “Wayfarer” or “Immortelle And Paper Caravelle”). Now he sings in tune, but in a very restrained dynamic range. In a way this is quite disappointing. Though it’s always nice to hear anything clean and in tune, there’s not much emotion in his singing. At least not anything that can compare to his prior efforts. The instrumental performance and production has also done a complete turn around. It’s all very clean, precise, polished, and for the most part, restrained. Once again, it’s nice to hear spot on performances with a flawless production, but there’s no emotion in that. I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by all of this.

The dive into abstract, free form jazz has also affected this album a great deal. The two prior records have had moments of sheer beauty scattered throughout, powerful enough to move me to tears. The melodic material and harmonic language on “Blue Lambency Downward” is all very chromatic and almost atonal. This is a subject upon which I could talk for hours, but I’ll keep it brief. In short, such ad hoc use of chromaticism is alien to the human condition. Not only does it go against the learned acculturation every human being of western culture grows up with (due to hundreds of years of musical foundations), but goes against the very basics of music itself: the harmonic series. But I digress, any musician’s choice to go against the grain of the common practice is just that: his choice. So, let’s get a bit more in depth here.

Most notable change with this album is probably the lack of metal. It has more ties to mid 20th century classical, free jazz and progressive rock than anything else. Certainly all residue of previous incarnation, Maudlin of The Well, has faded away. None of this is a bad thing, of course. I would have much preferred to see a continuation of Choirs of The Eye, however. The album opens with the title track: A meandering and vague piece of music that I have trouble identifying with. In fact, after repeated listens (in an attempt to “get” it), I found it annoyed me more than anything. The abstraction of it, Toby Diver’s strange vocal melodies, and just a sense that it goes nowhere, really got on my nerves. But skip it and “Clelia Walking” seems a bit more inviting, for the most part. It opens with clean guitar and a bunch of clarinet mutterings, which seem to go in and out of improvisation. Then it gets heavy, guitars spazzing in fits of discordance. Drummer Charlie Zeleny (of Behold…The Arctopus fame) shows of his exceptionally impressive chops here. This album would have done well to sport more passages like this. “Right Hand Is The One I Want” shows off a lot of jazz influence. It’s dream-like and ambiguous, but in a pleasing way, like drifting between sleep and reality. The second half seems to float in aleatoric free form, lead by Mia’s violin, before returning to the same jazz passage as the first half. Overall, a good track that got my hopes back up. “The Sow Submits” is definitely fresh territory. It’s a strange and quirky instrumental, like Mr. Bungle meets a Persichetti wind ensemble piece. This is where the crystal clear production helps the album most. This track contains so many instruments and electronic buzzes, yet it’s easy to pick out what each is doing. Violin and winds (clarinets and saxophones) mix and mingle in those chromatic, slippery and jazzy melodies.

“The Awkward Wind Wheel” might be the highlight of this album for me. Not only does it show off some Behold…The Arctopus worship in the opening (which is extremely well done, and works great with the instrumentation), but Toby actually sings a sing-able melody here. It’s still quirky and strange, but not unidentifiable. This is the first track of the album that seems to harken back to the beauty and drama of their previous efforts. Definitely the strongest so far. Next is “The Useless Ladder”. Unfortunately, it brings back the annoyance I felt with the opening title track. This, again, is due to the strange and uninspiring vocal melodies (though the last 20 seconds struck me as memorable). Fortunately, its short (only two and a half minutes).

Last, but not least, is the album’s longest track, “Symmetrical Arizona”. Opening with a slow (and long) introduction, featuring some work from the winds, a guitar solo (the only one on the album) and a short violin solo. Then it goes a little bit post rock-ish. Toby once again sings something sing-able, and the violins and winds add to the lilting melancholly of this section, which leads into brooding groove and escalates until the hell’s fermata at the end.

Phew. So that’s Blue Lambency Downward in a nutshell. In a few closing notes, I’d first like to say that, even as I’m writing this, I feel this album growing on me. It’s certainly the most challenging Kayo Dot album thus far, especially when I’m hoping for a return to the style of earlier material. Yes, there were a few things I wished would be on this album (more metal, and Diver’s beatnik-like speaking passages which were so identifiable), but it’s good in its own right. In conclusion, I think all fans of progressive and avant-garde music owe it to themselves to check this out. I’ve given it 6 or 7 good listens, and I’m still working on unraveling it. Trust me, its worth the effort.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Belgarath
July 22nd, 2008


  1. Commented by: swampthang

    this music makes me frustrated is that normal.

  2. Commented by: None

    This must be the best Kayo Dot review — of any of their albums — that I’ve ever read. You should do a retro-review of “Choirs of the Eye” — it would be fascinating to read your thoughts about it. I am also a fan of “Choirs”, but each album after that has drifted further beyond the limits of my comprehension. I often wish Toby would return to the ‘normal world’ again and be intelligible to those of us who haven’t attended music school, but it seems he is happier inside his head.

    I had to look up “aleatoric”, by the way. I learned something!

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