Published Jun 22, 2016Kayo Dot's Plastic House on Base of Sky builds on bandleader Toby Driver's recent commitment to darkwave-tinged, synth-based explorations.
While the avant-garde group's catalogue is defined by experimentation, 2014's Coffins on Io was the first release to not rely heavily on some mixture of metal, post-rock and chamber music. Tortured growls and winding clarinet passages were replaced with gothic vocal lines and shimmering keyboard melodies reminiscent of Type O Negative, Peter Gabriel and the Cure. Despite a reputation for constant change and the foreshadowing chorus-laden bass of 2010's Coyote, the '80s-inspired palette proved a substantial left turn for the band.
Plastic House is much like Coffins, at least superficially, employing a smattering of synthesizer sounds, trance-inducing repetition and Driver's increasingly ornamental voice once more, but while the sonic components are largely the same, their roles and relationships are the album's real loci of development. The venture into rhythmic complexity here is bold and supremely rewarding, especially given Driver's compositional tendencies and drummer Keith Abrams' abilities.
Kayo Dot have been releasing challenging music for over a decade, but Plastic House puts a newfound focus on Abrams' idiosyncratic drumming. The role of the synthesizer is also somewhat expanded on this new collection of songs; where Coffins surprised with its extensive use of the instrument for melodic purposes, Plastic House immerses the listener in a sea of analog and digital texture. In the moments that we are treated to a melody, it quickly evaporates into thin air, as if unable to stick to the shifting rhythmic plates that underlie the tracks.
However intriguing they may be, the percussive and textural elements come across as pieces of an incomplete musical puzzle. The unexpectedly hooky vocal lines and synth leads that made Coffins so enjoyable are largely absent here. While sustained listening reveals more of the internal logic of a Kayo Dot offering, one can't help but feel that the group moved too swiftly for the music's own good. Plastic House suffers from not integrating the successes of its predecessor.
Moments where all of the compelling aspects of this new direction come together, like the middle section of opener "Amalia's Theme" and most of "Magnetism," are few and far between. One is left applauding the desire to keep exploring new territory while begging for more time to plumb the depths of what's already been discovered. (The Flenser)