01. Blue Lambency Downward
02. Clelia Walking
03. Right Hand is the One I Want
04. The Sow Submits
05. The Awkward Wind Wheel
06. The Useless Ladder
07. Symmetrical Arizona
2008 Hydra Head Records
With previous releases on Tzadik Records (2003's Choirs of the Eye) and Robotic Empire (2006's Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue), avant-garde heavyweights Kayo Dot have finally found a home on Hydra Head for their third studio album, Blue Lambency Downward. Led by Toby Driver, the group has carved out a small but strong niche in the world of underground music, winning over fans of experimentalism through their unique blend of sonic textures, meandering songwriting, and bold musical ideas. Past releases have dabbled in everything from sullen metal to noise manipulation to jazz-inspired experimental rock, and despite a few songwriting shifts, the material in Blue Lambency Downward continues to display a musical mentality that is undeniably Kayo Dot.
However, it is Blue Lambency Downward's display of more concise songwriting and less unbridled experimentation via noise and ambience that allows it to stand apart from the rest of Kayo Dot's catalog. This change becomes immediately apparent when taking note of the disc's sub-45 minute length and the fact that only two tracks, "Blue Lambency Downward" and "Symmetrical Arizona," crack the ten minute barrier, seemingly a rarity for an act previously thriving on their frequent implementation of sprawling fifteen minute compositions.
Furthermore, Kayo Dot has moved toward a more fluid album direction, removing past pairings of dissimilar genres for a more unified approach of warm, droning avant-garde musical progressions. The opening title track is perfectly suited for displaying this style as it develops from a spacious introduction of winding chord sequences, subtle non-melodic vocal lines, and complementary wind instrument accompaniment to a plodding but determined display of complex drum rhythms and instrumental textures. "Right Hand is the One I Want" falls in line with the band's past jazz-tinged experimentations as it is driven by brushed drumming and layers of lead wind instruments and strings. "The Awkward Wind Wheel" delivers a surprisingly upbeat pace, fusing a driving indie rock mentality with their firm grasp of avant-garde jazz rock.
Despite Kayo Dot's decision to achieve a more unified and arguably more accessible sound with Blue Lambency Downward, the record still lacks the presence of one essential attribute: gratifying musical climaxes. Past Kayo Dot albums showed no shyness toward transitioning into heavier veins of experimentalism and that characteristic has all but disappeared on Blue Lambency Downward. One didn't have to venture far into Choirs of the Eye before the group locked into a grim period of doomy distortion in "Marathon," and tracks like "Gemini Becoming the Tripod" and "Aura on an Asylum Wall" from Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue offered fantastically crafted metallic swells of instrumentation. But on Blue Lambency Downward, only a few brief hints of metallic influence surface over the record's duration, namely the short outbursts of intensity in "Clelia Walking." This results in a release that is every bit as impressive and capable as past Kayo Dot albums in the realms of experimentation and vision, but it unfortunately lacks the ability to deliver a few much needed musical climaxes.
Bottom Line: Kayo Dot took a slight step away from the noisy experimentation of past releases to create a more unified record that tends not to venture away from a subtle mixture of warm droning, jazz-influenced rhythms, and an abundance of wind instrument and string melodies. Unfortunately, this more concise songwriting direction also left out their past indulgences in rewarding metallic climaxes. Blue Lambency Downward is impressively experimental and saturated in artistic vision, but without metallic influence it might just be a little too boring for those not completely engulfed in the appeal of avant-garde music.