Music is very much a subjective term, as I have learned "the hard way." Because of my liking of bands who live on the often-tedious fringe between music and noise, I have often been confronted by those to object to my "non-music." Even for a band as inherently musical (not to mention supremely important) as This Heat, I have been requested (ordered, more like) to "turn off this, this... NOISE," the last word spat out with a venom more suited for a murderer or a terrorist. I can only imagine the reaction I would get if I were to play music more along the lines of Merzbow or, as is pertinent to this review, Kayo Dot.
Kayo Dot, spearheaded by Toby Driver, is one of those bands on the fringe I mentioned above, but not of the same sort as most. Rather than an uncompromising, noisy, perhaps even ugly sound, Kayo Dot's music is, quite distinctly, beautiful. Sometimes, this beauty is obvious, such as at the start of "The Manifold Curiosity," where a delicate melody (played on some woodwind) is backed by a hesitant drumbeat and slightly distorted guitar. Similarly, "A Pitcher of Summer" starts with clearly beautiful, acoustic guitar based music. Other times, however, the beauty is not so obvious. The beginning of the opening "Marathon" is noisy and chaotic, holding a disguised beauty that only becomes apparent after repeated listens, when the album finally starts to make sense.
That, in a nutshell, encapsulates the utter brilliance of Kayo Dot's debut, Choirs of the Eye. It is beautiful from start to finish, and it takes time to appreciate. Make no mistake about the latter, especially. I had Choirs of the Eye for at least six months before I finally "got" it. I could put this down to its outright inaccessibility, but I think there's more to it than that. After all, I am no stranger to music that is "out there," and even the most difficult CDs rarely take more than a month to grow on me. No, what took me so long to appreciate Choirs of the Eye is its subtlety. At every moment there are little things that add the perfect touch to the music, making the atmosphere at that moment just right. The way that these elements affect the music are not readily apparent, and thus the CD is not immediately striking. Take, for example, the hesitant drums on "The Manifold Curiosity," the monologue that begins "Marathon," and the entire section of "Wayfarer" that begins around 6:30. The first two seem almost like afterthoughts at first, only starting to make sense after multiple listens. While both of those augment more obvious aspects of the music around them, however, the section in "Wayfarer" is notable in that it is composed almost entirely of subtleties. The quiet strumming, the slow, steady drums, the barely audible sound effects - all are insignificant taken alone, and indeed the entire section seems insignificant at first, but once you realize how each element fits with the others, it becomes one of the most powerful parts of the album.
So it is with the rest of the CD. Even when the music is beating you senselessly over the head (such as on the end of "The Manifold Curiosity"), there is more happening than first meets the ear. Even now, after countless listens, I find new subtleties each listen. You want to know the only other CD I can really say that about? CAN's Tago Mago, which just happens to be my favorite CD. Kayo Dot's Choirs of the Eye reaches a similarly high level because of it's command of subtlety. That is the triumph of Choirs of the Eye and the key reason I regard Toby Driver as a modern musical genius (in the company of John Zorn, among others). So, in case any of you haven't realized this yet, Choirs of the Eye is most definitely music. Some of the greatest music ever made, as it happens.
An undeniable masterpiece.