Ever-changing Kayo Dot enthrall, enrapture again with ‘Gamma Knife’

It’s mood music week, apparently, what with us taking a look at the new Asva yesterday and today spending some time with the sixth full-length effort from Kayo Dot, a band that defies all descriptions, though they’ve been tagged with the post-rock, post-metal, art-rock type labels. Those designations only fit to an extent, and they only do because no one’s coined a term for what this Toby Driver-led band creates. Let’s just say if you’re new to this band’s music, spend some time expanding your mind before you do so, because it’s not an easy experience once you get inside.

For me, Kayo Dot’s music always establishes feeling and mood. Their compositions are not ordinary at all. They explode across their canvas, and while there’s a musical brilliance to what they do, Kayo Dot don’t seem interested in paying homage to convention or rigid guidelines. Therefore, some people may – and already have – dismiss the band’s music as a mess. That would be a foolish assessment. That would be an opinion of a listener who just doesn’t get it, and there’s no real shame in that, as Kayo Dot’s music doesn’t seem inclined to please all. As for me, I appreciate their free-spirited expression, and what they do never ceases to set up shop in my heart and mind and take me away. Their 2010 album “Coyote” broke my heart over and over again, and while I’ve emotionally calloused a little bit to the story due to repeat listens, it still manages to prick me at least a little bit every time I hear it.

Kayo Dot’s new record “Gamma Knife” arrived in our hands digitally on Jan. 4, and while we’re just three weeks into the new year, it’s going to be tough for another band to top these 25 minutes of spontaneity, excitement, creativity and surprise. From the first listen, I was taken hostage by this collection, partially recorded live in October in Brooklyn (the rest done at home in October and November).          It sounds nothing like any other entry in the band’s catalog, and that’s another thing that makes me love this band so much. From album to album, you never know what you’re going to get. You can’t even venture a prediction. Put their last three efforts – this, “Coyote” and “Blue Lambency Downward” – together, and you’d be hard pressed to guess it’s the same band responsible.

“Gamma Knife” has very interesting bookends. It opens with “Lethe,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place in a winter midnight mass. I don’t mean a black mass. I mean an old-style-church, hands-folded-upward service designed to lift you spiritually. And this song does that, though it doesn’t have to move you liturgically and can just affect you personally. It’s gorgeous and colorful, and Driver’s soulful vocals takes the song to the highest of heights. The closing title cut is quiet, serene and jazzy, almost lounge style. It’s a perfect song to dress up a rainy night, and Driver’s smooth singing reminds a little bit of Rufus Wainwright, sans the pretension.

In between those cuts are three tracks that throw everything at the wall, attack your senses and leave you reeling. They’re some of Kayo Dot’s most aggressive songs in some time, and the live performances of these numbers add an extra level of organic fury. “Rite of Goetic Evocation” find the sax flutters from Terran Olson and Daniel Means filling the room with smoke, while Mia Matsumiya’s strings let propulsive beauty slip in, and Driver’s throaty growls mash the thing into spikes. At points, the song gets dangerously close to black metal territory. “Mirror Water, Lightning Night” sets the jazzy elements and metallic traits across the battlefield from each other, urging both to charge, swords in hands, for a duel to the death. Inside all of that tussling comes some parts that sound a little but like Steely Dan and Rush. “Ocellated God” is the heaviest yet, taking listeners back to an era when screamo wasn’t a bad word and a sullied subgenre, and there is just total madness afoot throughout this incredible exercise. It makes the calming closing track that much more effective once it leaks out.

Kayo Dot never will be a band you’re able to box up, bottle or corner. They keep moving, gelling then melting, rising up and burning down and returning an all-new being. Each record is a new journey, and even if the foot soldiers are the same, their frame of mind never is. Kayo Dot are a band that is treasured by its followers, because those people feel some kind of kinship to the group’s multiple transformations and heartfelt expressions. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be one of the biggest bands in the world, but they’ll always be one of the most genuine.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.kayodot.net/kayodot/index.php?text=home

To buy “Gamma Knife,” go here: http://kayodot.bandcamp.com/