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Kayo Dot - Coyote

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Artist: Kayo Dot

Album: Coyote

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Apr. 15, 2010

The last time I looked at Kayo Dot, the big concern had to do with what genre they were in and how that skews expectations, especially if people expect them to be metal or try grouping them as metal. This grew out of the fact that a number of reviews tried to make something of lead composer Toby Driver’s metal background. With Coyote, the metal comparisons seem even more remote, as Kayo Dot is even further entrenched in the depths of modern composition and Rock In Opposition-descended genres, and perhaps the only thing it shares with avant-metal at this point is tone or atmosphere.

And really , Coyote opens up even further, by having a symbolist dimension to the music. As Driver noted about the second song “Whisper Ineffable” in a recent Village Voice article, “The vibe and color changes throughout the movement — the opening is loneliness, and emptiness, feeling lost, which becomes action and fear, which becomes a violent spewing, which becomes a calm yet morbid resolution. The synth, by adding an element of non-pitch-oriented texture, hopefully extends the music three-dimensionally. Atmosphere!”

The atonal quality in Coyote is interesting, as it’s not anxiety-producing, but has shades of foreboding and uneasiness. When I was looking at Extra Life, another Brooklyn band that seems descended in some way from an avant-prog/modern composition background, it was very apparent that the vocal style and instrumentation was used to evoke a heightened response in the listener. Driver’s compositional style, however, while still coming out of the same tradition and while still holding very atonal elements, is much gentler. The end result is not existential terror or anxiety, but rather a fluid, melodramatic feeling.

Coyote began as a collaboration between filmmaker and photographer Yuko Sueta and Driver. Sueta, who passed away last fall after a long battle with breast cancer, wrote the story that Driver used as the fundament for the lyrics. The melodrama of the music and lyrics was the tone that Driver set. In an interview on Noisecreep, he notes, “The original intention was like, ‘Oh let’s make this gothic thing.’ Because I want to use this Goth-based sound, and I want to be inspired by all these Goth bands. So I was like, ‘Why don’t you make all the words be super melodramatic?”

Melodrama is an interesting choice. Generally, in film and television, it’s rather one-dimensional. Heavy, obvious music stands in for emotional nuance, and the writing is functional, used to evoke the most broad version of an emotion in the most wide-ranging audience. The Gothic melodramas that Driver is invoking through the Goth bands he is interpreting are not that far removed from their modern day descendents. Buffy is a good current example, as the themes of the Gothic melodramas — horror and romance — make up the core of the show.

While Sueta’s story and Driver’s lyrics aren’t autobiographical, the mixture of their feelings as Sueta faced her terminal illness and the tone set by the Gothic melodrama collide to create a horrific, but ultimately honest story. As Driver says again about the second track, “[T]his track is the part of the story in which the protagonist, the Calonyction Girl, is lying there feeling all terrible, and she sees her heart and viscera climb out of her body and stretch around the dark room, helping her to separate herself from her sensations. This enables her to have visions, which she draws in the air. The images become connected to one another by the organs and viscera, creating a map, which she dreamily enters.”

Coyote may have a number of different elements competing within the album itself, but centering around Sueta’s story, they find harmony with each other and produce an album both beautiful and eerie.

By Andrew Beckerman

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