Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Toby Driver - In the L... L... Library Loft (2005)

Rating: 9.6

Far too often I hear that nothing new is being done in music, and finally I have found the perfect CD to throw back at the naysayers. While there are plenty of bands who are consistently pushing new ground, few are doing so as blatantly as Toby Driver’s many projects (Maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot, Tartar Lamb, solo), and In the L… L… Library Loft might just be his most innovative yet.

Instead of pioneering and perfectly a new style of music, In the L… L… Library Loft sees Driver take four unique ideas for how to structure his pieces, then explore what he can do with them. Because of this, he is not likely ever to have much widespread influence on how songs are structured—the ideas are so unique that if anybody else were to use them it would almost certainly be blatant copying—but his ideas ought to provoke a shift (at least in avant-garde circles) in the way people think about composition and structure, inspiring future composers to similarly play with unique composition ideas.

As the title of the CD would suggest, In the L… L… Library Loft is the stuff of nightmares. The whole CD exudes a dreary, haunting atmosphere, scarier than any songs built merely around diminished chords. The best example of this is the opener, “Kandu vs. Corky (Horrorca),” which just might be my favorite Toby Driver composition yet. Compositionally, it is a drone piece, but, as I’ve mentioned, the song structure is atypical. In this case, the song is built to resemble a bell curve. On the small level, each individual drone starts soft, then gets louder, and finally returns to softness before giving way to a new drone. The drums, on the other hand, start slowly, gradually increasing in speed, then slowing down at the same speed they initially sped up. In fact, one of the most powerful moments in the song is when the drums and the violin both follow this pattern on top of each other. On a larger scale, the song itself also follows a bell curve, starting out as a simple, haunting drone, then builds in both complexity and power (though not much in volume or speed), finally returning to a closing drone. The climax of the piece is one of those musical miracles, one of the most powerful sections I’ve heard.

The rest of the CD never gets quite as intense as the opener, but it never gets dull, either. “The Lugubrious Library Loft” is composed for instruments played by two people; that is, for every one instrument, there are two musicians operating it (even vocals). For the piano, there is someone hitting the keys and someone controlling the strings (resulting in odd but pleasing tones). The vocals are the most interesting, however (though they only appear for the first part of the song). Toby Driver forms the notes and sings them as “aaahs,” and Mia Matsumiya then inserts her lips, teeth, and tongue into his mouth to enunciate the syllables. The result is, again, oddly pleasing. Like it’s predecessor, the song builds up to a fantastic climax.

“Brown Light Upon Us” is the closest thing to a misstep on the CD, as the concept behind the song does not play out when listening. Toby Driver recorded this song a room away from the microphones on the theory that it would sound best listened to from a different room. While it is still a nice piece of music, there are no audible benefits I notice from listening while in a different room. There are also times I feel it is a tad too long, but on the whole it is actually a very good (if somewhat standard sounding) drone composition (though it does perhaps go on a bit too long). To close out In the L… L… Library Loft, however, Driver returns to what definitely works. He describes it as one of the most bleak and haunting pieces he has ever written, and I can in no way argue. On this song, he experiments—not with song structure—but with the sounds a trumpet can make. For the first half of the song, the trumpet is played to produce an almost breathy tone, while on the second half the trumpet emits a microtonal wail. However, the song is actually based mostly around strings and piano, and is very much a strength in Toby Driver’s catalogue.

On the whole, In the L… L… Library Loft is a tremendous release that further establishes Toby Driver as one of the composers on the frontier of modern music. He may not ever revolutionize the world of music, but I’ll be damned if I can think of anybody who deserves to do so more. In the L… L… Library Loft is a flat-out masterpiece, one of the greatest CDs to have emerged from the progressive music scene in recent years.


Shakespeare said...

I really want to get this now.

Follycle said...

That's because it's awesome and you can feel it.