Kayo Dot Go Pop, Pop Goes Weird: A Review of Coffins on Io

Empty Lighthouse is a reader-supported site. This article may contain affiliate links to Amazon and other sites. We earn a commission on purchases made through these links.

It's hard to read or listen to an interview with Toby Driver, Kayo Dot's main composer, and not be impressed with his unabashedly honest tendencies.

In the press release announcing the stream of Coffins on Io, he didn't filter the album's aims through any sort of artsy obscurification, "Basically the vibe that we're going for here is inspired by 80s retro-future noir-- Blade Runner," He went on to add that Coffins on Io will sound "kind of like a sexy combination of Type O Negative, Peter Gabriel and Sisters of Mercy."

While this is charming and funny in the sense that it highlights the pretense of the press release (yeah guys, this is what it sounds like, etc.), it's also incredibly modest and sells Coffins on Io a little short.

Driver's statement is, for the most part, true; Coffins on Io does "basically" sound like "a sexy combination of Type O Negative and Peter Gabriel." But it would be a more accurately described as Kayo Dot absorbing some of those acts' aesthetics into their ever-expanding repertoire.

Although the "goth makeover" factor will undoubtedly drive Coffins on Io's press narrative, the more jarring aspect of it is its relative structure in general (in comparison to their prior albums, which weren't unstructured per se but may give off that impression to your average listener) and how well said structure works for the go-to band for "abstract" or "experimental".

If you've been paying attention to what Driver has been saying in recent years, this shouldn't come as a surprise. In interviews, he always seemed irked (not, like, in an impolite way) that Kayo Dot is more often than not viewed as some sort of improvisational act.

Coffins on Io seems designed with the idea that the listener will be unable to escape the truth of the album's genesis - that it was in fact rigidly composed and not jammed out.

Bitching about either the use or the misuse of sub genres is a little bit played with respects to music reviewing, but the sub genre most often applied to Kayo Dot - "avant garde metal" has always seemed both wholly ridiculous and weirdly apt to your reviewer, but only because it pretty much excuses Kayo Dot from being part of any genre at all whilst occasionally utilizing a death growl every once in awhile. But if you're looking at the term "avant garde metal" as a metal fan (i.e.

target audience), you're just going to think regular metal with jazz drumming or something, so the descriptor is just kind of pointless and even misleading, almost as if it were coined in haste by a thesaurus-reliant publicist.

The term "avant garde" technically means experimental or groundbreaking, but in every day usage is recognized to have a more specific, artistic connotation. As in, you would never describe a groundbreaking mathematical proof as avant garde mathematical proof. Furthermore, avant garde usually denotes some sort of dream-like surreal quality.

For example, in film, the director David Lynch is considered avant garde for his juxtaposition of nightmarish imagery with extremely banal depictions of suburbia, etc.

When music journalists started to apply this tag to Kayo Dot, what they really meant was: Kayo Dot is this really crazy band that has, like, horns, and weird time signatures and has this wunderkind [Driver] that's like a legitimate classical composer as opposed to an ordinary rock songwriter." They meant Kayo Dot was progressive, but, at the same time, didn't want you to think they sounded like Dream Theater.

The funny thing about Coffins on Io is that it retroactively legitimizes the sub-sub-genre that Kayo Dot was errantly confined to in the first place. Not because it panders to reviewing cliches, but because it's a cohesively focused effort that meets and exceeds Driver's stated aims for it - it sounds very 80's, it does sound like Type O Negative (sometimes) but, more importantly, it nails the film-noir feel pretty damn well for, you know, being music and not film.

But it would be wrong to describe Coffins on Io as "soundtrack music" or even "cinematic." A song like "Library Subterranean" sounds Lynchian when it takes its labyrinthian twists and turns out of its 80s synth-pop template to the Mahavishnu Orchestra- like territory of its conclusion.

Coffins on Io is Kayo Dot's best album to date.

Again, not because Kayo Dot finally decided to stop jamming out and start writing, but more because Toby Driver found a way to distill his remarkable talent into a collection of songs that don't require a Berklee degree to fully appreciate.