Friday, 8 November 2013

Kayo Dot - Hubardo

In an event of near synchronicity it falls to me to review Hubardo almost a year on from vainly attempting to dissemble Scott Walker's Bish Bosch. That both Walker's and Kayo Dot's atramentous works are being dissected at the gloomiest and darkest times of the year is more than appropriate.

Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt apparently wanted their album Watershed to be a heavy metal version of Scott Walker's The Drift, a work of deliberate literary obfuscation and non-musical mayhem. According to Åkerfeldt "it proved to be impossible simply because his [Scott's] head is sicker than mine and I also love melodies and dynamics." Well, although Kayo Dot's Hubardo does contain melody, sometimes but not always buried beneath waves of furious instrumentation, and certainly is frighteningly dynamic, in the most extreme sense of the word, if there ever was a band that could put Mr Engel's works through an avant-metal mincer, it is Toby Driver's band of feisty brigands. 

If you haven't already guessed, if you listen to music purely for entertainment, then there is little point in reading any further, although this dark noise sure entertains me!

Formed ten years ago by multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver after the collapse of his previous band maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot instantly made a name for themselves in avant musical circles by having their debut waxing Choirs Of The Eye released on no less a label than John Zorn's Tzadik Records. The group have not looked back since. Hubardo is their seventh album in a career that has been wildly adventurous and as uncompromisingly strange as it has been wilfully uncommercial. 

With a line up in constant flux, the only other member apart from Driver on this album who appeared on Choirs... being violin player Mia Matsumiya, the band have gone through several changes in style. With a wide range of instrumentation the band shift from ancient death-metal to soul-shredding anti-balladry, industrial soundscapes, incorporating classical music structures, jazz timings, post-rock stylings, and no doubt, the kitchen sink, all of which renders Kayo Dot nigh on impossible to pin down, thank your deity of choice! The constant through all of this has been Driver's never ending quest to find new paths of musical expression, his compositional traits rendering each album recognisable as coming from a certain place, and at the same time sounding utterly different from one another.

Never one to shy away from a surprise, an example being the delightfully atmospheric and quite odd The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise Of Sadness), coming as it does after the first five tracks of unnerving full-on intensity. First Matter starts from a calm and eerie perspective reminiscent of Faith-era Cure, and slowly builds in intensity to morph into an avant-ambient monster around a simple keyboard figure, growling low-end frequencies and subtle but thunderous percussion.

If we may go back to the start, "Hubardo" means "lamp" or "lantern" in the ancient magickal language of Enochian, and album opener The Black Stone shines dark light on the black mirror, squaring the circle in the form of a guest appearance by former maudlin of the Well screamer Jason Byron, who oh-so-slowly growls his way through a tale of Leviathan and "water enough for all", one stretched and gnarled syllable after another. The thing seems to last for an eternity, which was probably the point, and no doubt a wilfully strange choice with which to start the album, but not really my cup of tea to be honest.

You will probably know that I am no fan of growling, but this band somehow make me leave my prejudices at the door, as this music is far, far more than just death metal. In fact as I said earlier, there is no point in labelling Kayo Dot, they just are. I am not saying it is easy to get used to, oh no, but this music is more than worthy of a bit of suffering in its appreciation.

Charting the story of a meteor falling to Earth and its transformative effects on a lonely poet, the lyrics are epic storytelling in the grand sense, and would not have looked out of place had they been translated into modern English from newly discovered texts by Dante. Take this verse from Thief (see Bandcamp link above), as our disturbed hero brings home the rock, riven by guilt:

The stone he brought it home
beneath the secrecy of night
The thief cometh like the Lord
Into his house where it was stored
He crept into the dreams of the townspeople
Like a knife into a vein
Or a rope around a throat

Dramatic stuff, I think you'll agree, screamed out with increasing ferocity to such an extent as to become almost unintelligible. I'll admit this is where the cookie monster gets a tad OTT for me, but wait; suddenly the poet appears, and a verse in the middle of the song, marooned like a becalmed boat in the eye of a storm is crooned in a voice not a million miles away from Scott's. The poet is lost in introspection, as his "art stares back at him, a fount of living inspiration", before being overtaken by the maelstrom again, over which the brass blows like its life depends on it. This is hard work, but well worth the effort.

Even deep within the pit of unearthly gloom of the first five tracks there are highly musical moments such as the flute section in Vision Adjustment, and the neo-classical arrangement buried in the nightmare vision of the Mars Volta-like Zlida Caosgi.

When Toby sings and the growls cease, and the band climb down from the machine gun turret of sonic mania, a uneasy calm descends. Some relief, not necessarily "light", is needed, and this is brought by the aforementioned First Matter..., and continues into The Second Operation, the ensemble morphing into a jazz orchestra, mournful brass and reeds dancing with the achingly sad violin, across the still smoking sonic landscape. The song slows to a crawl as Toby croons the increasingly bizarre tale, the choir-like backing vocals adding to the calm in the eye of the storm. If the darkside is ever beautiful, this is what it sounds like. 

It was inevitable really, that the Floodgate would open and it did. The storm is back as our hero has let loose the flood that would be the end of all things, the saxes blowing in a corner of a demonic jazz club situated somewhere in the Seventh Ring.

The poet finds his dream and becomes the thing he wanted to be.
And He Built Him A Boat is a musical and lyrical redemption, another one of those otherworldly alt-ballads, and this time I could imagine Nick Cave singing it. Storms of Kevin Shields' guitars swirl around as counterpoint to the sheer longing of the vocal, a marvellous construct indeed.

Things get even more ethereal on Passing The River, the first half of this song being about as different in style from the album introduction of The Black Stone as it is possible to be. A lovely slice of post-rock balladry that Paul Buchanan would have been happy to have penned, the song makes its stately way downstream, until it is bludgeoned by some fearsome feedback and distortion riddled unaccompanied guitar work, eventually joined in disharmonious mischief by the rest of the band, howling like a collective banshee.

This 100 minutes of sonic defiance ends with the stunningly good 14 minutes of Wait Of The World, a weirdly dislocated prog-jazz-fusion workout by a group of lysergically enhanced Venusians that happened to catch King Crimson's Cat Food as it flew by on a radio wave, "entranced by the advent of oblivion". Sung, not growled, I hasten to add, and I consider they have saved the best for the end.

With Hubardo Kayo Dot have produced a masterwork for their tenth anniversary. The much used phrase "pushing the envelope" becomes irrelevant. This envelope has been burnt to ashes, the cinders are then used as tribal war paint by the group as they march off to destroy expectations and musical horizons. Hubardo is probably a sonic definition of the word progressive, in its most literal sense, and if you have a sense of adventure where music is concerned you NEED to buy this.

I wonder what Mr Driver listens to for fun?

Track listing:
1. The Black Stone (10:38)
2. Crown-In-The-Muck (8:54)
3. Thief (6:52)
4. Vision Adjustment To Another Wavelength (4:53)
5. Zlida Caosgi (To Water The Earth) (5:26)
6. The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise Of Sadness) (9:29)
7. The Second Operation (Lunar Water) (13:19)
8. Floodgate (7:23)
9. And He Built Him A Boat (7:28)
10. Passing The River (10:12)
11. The Wait Of The World (14:23)

Total running time - 98:57

Line up:

Toby Driver - voice, bass, synthesizers, organ, piano, Rhodes and percussion
Daniel Means - alto sax, tenor sax and clarinet
Ron Varod - guitars
Keith Abrams - drums
Terran Olson - flute, clarinet, alto sax, organ, piano and synth solo on Floodgate
Tim Byrnes - trumpet, horn in F
Mia Matsumiya - violin, synths

Guest musicians:
Jason Byron - vocals on "The Black Stone" intro
Jessika Kenney - backing vocals
BC Campbell - backing vocals
Randall Dunn - synth design

Buy direct from the band HERE as well as from all the usual digital places.

Note: Owing to the ludicrous pricing structure of US Postal, whose "service" sees fit to charge $35 for shipping a $32 vinyl album from the USA to the UK, I have reviewed this from a purchased download, as Toby tells me CD production is uneconomic for the band, much as it may have been preferable to us Europeans with more sense than money. Therefore I have not seen the artwork in its full LP cover sized glory. If the pdf's are anything to go by, it is a nicely put together package. So, if you don't mind paying that rather inflated price, go for it, if it's still available.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Camel - The Barbican Centre, London, 28th October 2013

For the first time on Astounded by Sound! I have a guest scribbler, in the guise of my good mate and long-time gig going companion Phil W, who knows far more about Camel than I do, so...take it away, El Phillipo....

Never underestimate the power of music to inspire, embolden and to heal. As Camel return to active service for the first time in a decade, there is huge cause for both celebration and relief. This is, after all, a moment many had feared would never come, not least due to Andy Latimer's well documented battle with ill health. If anyone can doubt the restorative power of music, then let this legendary musician and the extraordinary music he has created stand as powerful evidence that even when it seems that hope is fading, the call and allure of the creative process wields a unique potency.

Perhaps there is something quite magical about the timing of the return of Camel to the live arena. For fans who have long cherished this band and its remarkable achievements, the opportunity to experience The Snow Goose being performed in it's entirety for the first time since the mid 1970s seems to represent a wondrous collision between past and present, serving to emphasise the timeless nature of music of quality and passion.

It would seem that, with his typical humility, Andy Latimer has expressed his absolute delight to discover that not only has his loyal following from 'way back when' remained with him during some very dark days, but that their enthusiasm has not faded in any way. It's been a long time since the goose has flown!

Early indications that this was indeed going to be a very special evening became evident as I joined the pre-concert throng surrounding the merchandising stall. A group from Argentina had built a short holiday in London around attending the concert. Fans had arrived from various parts of Europe, the USA, but the long distance travel medal must surely go to a couple who hailed from Australia and saw this as maybe their one chance to see the group in such a special setting!

The merchandising van had only just arrived having been delayed due to the stormy weather, and a feeding frenzy ensued as the devoted wrestled to get their hands on the new re-recording of The Snow Goose. "The concert will begin in five minutes", heralded the announcer. Decision time; should I get the new CD now or risk it being sold out at interval? Fortunately a window of opportunity presented itself as a gap in the crowd opened up between two fans anxious to claim their seats, so the goodies were acquired.

In the auditorium the charged atmosphere was almost palpable. A man next to Christine and I declared that he felt almost sick with excitement and anticipation. The lights dimmed and the band took to the stage to a roar that would have raised the dead! Then.....and then......Andy Latimer strode out from the wings, guitar held aloft. He was greeted with a volcanic eruption of acclamation that showed no sign of abating after several minutes. Seizing a slight drop in the decibel level, he announced, "We'll, it's been quite while! Thank you. It's good to be here. At my age, it's good to be anywhere!"

The stage was set, the signal was given and the band launched into the familiar first notes of The (re-visited) Snow Goose. Would it simply be an exercise in 'spot the different notes?' Certainly not! We were treated to a sometimes comfortably familiar but by no means treading water expanded version that seemed to take on a new energy as its flight progressed. I am sure no one would have been surprised if Andy Latimer had levitated during any of his masterful solos during the piece.

The other members of the flight crew brought their own special talents into play and surely exceeded any previous expectations that this would be a very remarkable performance. Almost before it had begun the flight was over and the audience had but a short interval time to come to terms with the reality that they were indeed witnesses to an event that was so much more than just a gig.

The second set had to be very much a guessing game of not just what they would play but what they would omit from what is a huge catalogue of songs. The band opened with Never Let Go from the debut album, followed by Song Within A Song from Moonmadness. Then we were treated to a selection covering the group's entire career, ending with two songs from the last studio album, these being the very amusing Fox Hill presented with great humour by Colin Bass and an exquisitely rendered For Today.

Following this collection the band may have thought it was "Thank you very much and good night", but it was never going to end like that. Their reception onto the stage over two hours earlier was itself upstaged by the huge outpouring of love and joyous acclamation that was released by the audience, and our reward came earlier with Never Let Go that opened the second set, dedicated to the much missed Peter Bardens, and with the final hurrah in the form of an absolutely wonderful Lady Fantasy. Many of the audience seemed completely overwhelmed by what they had been part of as they filed out of the auditorium, and the air was heavy with emotion.

"Never give a day away. Always live for today." This had not been nostalgia in any form, but surely the rebirth of a proud legacy.

The Flight Of The Snow Goose: On board crew - Andy Latimer: electric, acoustic guitars, flute, lead and backing vocals; Colin Bass: bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; Denis Clement: drums, bass; Guy LeBlanc: keyboards, backing vocals; Jason Hart: keyboards, backing vocals.

The Snow Goose
The Great Marsh
Rhayader Goes to Town
The Snow Goose
Rhayader Alone
Flight of the Snow Goose
Fritha Alone
La Princesse Perdue
The Great Marsh (reprise)

Second Set
Never Let Go
Song Within a Song
The Hour Candle (A Song for My Father)
Tell Me
Watching the Bobbins
Fox Hill
For Today

Lady Fantasy

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