Kayo Dot – Choirs of the Eye

For one reason or another, multi-instrumentalist and composer Toby Driver’s flagship band maudlin of the Well fell apart, and from its ashes came its new incarnation, Kayo Dot. Although many of maudlin of the Well’s familiar quirks tranlsated onto this new name, there was a decided change in the sound; a move towards a more experimental and avant-garde sound. To me, maudlin of the Well’s sound was very curious and dreamy, like a nostalgic childhood summer. Of course, childhood does not last forever, and enter Kayo Dot, leading Toby Driver’s music out of the proverbial childhood nostalgia and into a much darker and challenging adolescence, one that is much more ambiguous and even frightening. Kayo Dot’s first album ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ therefore is something of a transition album for Toby Driver and company, featuring elements of both the carefree innocence of his earlier band, and the avant darkness of his future material with Kayo Dot. The result is a multi-faceted album that may very well be Driver’s greatest achievement, but one of my favourite progressive albums ever.

Unlike maudlin of the Well- which featured comparatively accessible songwriting and a clear sense of direction- Kayo Dot’s ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ changes the approach, leading to many moments that could feel aimless to someone who is not paying close attention the the ever-changing textures and build up. While some have described this album as post-metal, the majority of ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ relies on quietness rather than heaviness to get the mood across. This is an album which hits that sweet spot between variety and cohesion. There is a dreamy, otherwordly vibe to all of the music here, but the tone and dynamic is always changing. Each track encapsulates a variety of emotions. For example, the closing number ‘The Antique’ goes from crushingly heavy, sludgy metal to jazzy piano and muffled vocals that could have easily been plucked out of a Radiohead album. There are plenty of surprises here, and until the very end, like some sort of quiet, intellectual action movie, the listener is kept on their toes. These compositions do not have the same cohesive feeling to them that maudlin of the Well’s music had, so really besides the potential single ‘A Pitcher Of Summer’, these will not be tracks that get stuck in your head. Instead, you will probably find yourself getting hooked onto certain parts of each song, and it will only be after many intent listens where a listener is able to predict each of the twists and turns in this masterpiece. ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ can get very heavy, but these spurts of metal are usually only momentary; much of the album instead leans towards mellw tones and textures; perhaps I may use the term ‘avant-post rock’? The guitars are filled with echoes and reverb to rattle around in the listener’s head, but the joys of the performance here are really about the non-typical instrumentation. Above all, violinist Mia Matsumiya’s performance here is jaw-dropping, taking any violin arrangement here and making the strings sing with beauty. Another fairly strange aspect of Kayo Dot’s sound is Toby Driver’s voice, specifically his wide range of styles that he employs. Throughout the album, a listener will hear him go from mellow, mid-register singing, spoken word poetry, and soft falsetto, to choatic howls and screams. Often, all of this will be heard within the course of one song. In his work with maudlin of the Well, I was unsure whether or not I considered him to be a good or bad singer, but Kayo Dot has set me straight on the matter; although his voice does not have a great technical skill to it, he is able to express himself with great diversity, and pulls off most of what he tries quite impressively. ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ is one of those albums that listeners will take alot of time to wrap their heads around, although some of those coming off of a maudlin of the Well binge may be initially put off by the change in pace and style. After giving this many nights of engaged listening and awe, I could safely say that ‘Choirs Of The Eye’ is the most impressive, exciting thing that Toby Driver and co. have done to date; a sweeping epic that soothes, excites, and challenges. A masterpiece.


1. Marathon (10:13)
2. A Pitcher of Summer (5:47)
3. The Manifold Curiosity (14:26)
4. Wayfarer (10:39)
5. The Antique (14:38)


* Toby Driver – guitar, vocals, cello
* Sam Gutterman – drums
* Nicholas Kyte – bass, vocals
* Greg Massi – guitar, vocals
* Mia Matsumiya – violin, viola
* Terran Olson – clarinet, flute, piano, keyboards, saxophone
* Benjie Messer – trumpet
* Sam Minnich – french horn
* Adam Scott – trumpet

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