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Kayo Dot/Bloody Panda - Split EP

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Artist: Kayo Dot/Bloody Panda

Album: Split EP

Label: Holy Roar

Review date: Feb. 5, 2007

A split release is the perfect way not only to document musical development between albums but also to establish connections. Both of these functions are accomplished on this release from two interesting pan-idiomatic bands, waxed on beautiful gray vinyl with an orange sunburst radiating from its center.

Boston’s avant chamber-metal group Kayo Dot has made some of the most memorable “rock” records of the last few years. This time around the band consists of Mia Matsumiya (vocals and violin), Toby Driver (guitar, Rhodes, clarinet, vocals), Forbes Graham (trumpet and euphonium), bassist Ryan McGuire, guitarists John Carchia and Greg Massi, and drummer Tom Malone. I think at least half of these folks quit the band a few months back. On this release, one still hears the collective’s unique brand of ominous chamber metal, with low-end brass and chimes flashing amid crushing power chords and double-kick flourishes. As compelling as I find this idiomatic mix, however, what always stands out from Kayo Dot for me are the dynamics, Toby Driver’s melancholic musings, and the group’s cemetery lyricism.

Their piece “Don’t Touch Dead Animals” is a typically complex suite, its disparate parts united by the group’s internal compositional logic. In some sense it sounds like an attempt to upset that particular combination in order to strike out towards new spaces. It’s only intermittently successful. After a fractured nursery rhyme, there is the layered sound of beautiful trumpet, swirling electronics, and slightly tuned drumming, all of which conjure up a weird medieval procession. But soon beautiful scherzo strings seem to well up as guitars subside, and they perform their antic dance alongside a hyperbolic brass section, animals rearing up against some unseen threat. So far, so good. But then erupts an unexpected section – just before part two, begun with another rhyme – with backwards tapes, a blocky backbeat, and every member of the band singing different lyrics, yielding a complex multi-vocal mewling. From there the second section unfolds with a noise frenzy worthy of the No Fun crowd. Different instruments (often multi-tracked) are used to create huge slabs of sound, moving audibly and burying the needle in the red with feedback, shrieks, and blast beats. It’s definitely more crazed than anything I’ve heard from the Dot before. The sound of a band coming apart, or moving in a new direction?

Bloody Panda is vocalist Yoshiko Ohara, guitarist Josh Rothenberger, bassist Bryan Camphire, keyboardist Blake McDowell, and drummer Richard Schwartz. Their music synthesizes an altogether different set of interests, which I find much less absorbing. Ohara is a fantastic vocalist, with an anguished sensibility and a throaty delivery that merges Jargoe with Julie Christmas. But the band sounds too monochromatic for me, not quite heavy enough to really please in that register, nor able to create interesting enough atmospheres. It’s not bad stuff, really. The opening of “Circle and Tail” has the kind of terrifying, elastic distortion that makes the latest Celtic Frost so creepy. And “Fever” – whose doomy tattoo feeds into crunchy riffing, all polyrhythms that lurch forward into a mournful cathedral space – sounds at times like a strange meeting of Dead Can Dance with Khanate. I ought to like it, but it’s not quite my kind of defiled stuffed animal.

By Jason Bivins

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