Groundbreakers: Kayo Dot – Choirs of the Eye

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In 2003, a little-known band from Boston called maudlin of the Well broke up. In itself, this event was nothing remarkable, until members regrouped that same year as Kayo Dot to release their debut album, Choirs of the Eye, on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. maudlin of the Well’s discography, great as it was, was instantly apparent as little more than training wheels, introducing to the world band leader Toby Driver’s highly idiosyncratic way of doing things in a manner less starkly refined than Choirs of the Eye.

Within its first minute, opening track “Marathon” deftly transitions from clanging dissonance to a somber horn melody over reverberating guitar scrapes. “Wayfarer” starts like one of Comus‘ finer moments, focused and driving but light as a feather, belying the bombastic guitar heroics that pick up later. And certainly, Kayo Dot know how to pick up–the grooving, almost Morbid Angel-esque riff tower that closes “The Manifold Curiosity” is a particular highlight that works especially well as the album’s centerpiece, easily dwarfing maudlin of the Well’s heavier moments.

In its finest moments, Choirs of the Eye manages to strip away all pretenses of riffs and song structures and every other rote musical restriction that could keep this music from being what it is: just heart, and feeling–sometimes warm and open, as in the muted opening to “Wayfarer,” and sometimes dark and foreboding, like the plodding doom of “The Antique.” The mood conjured by Choirs of the Eye is unmatched by any other music because none could match its nudity; Kayo Dot strip away the protective skin of musical convention and leave only the raw musical nerve endings, dropping style for pure affect.

Take “The Antique,” for example. Both in itself and in the sequence of the album as a whole, there is nothing but the song. Ten and a half minutes in, a horn solo cuts through above the icy, windswept landscape (suck it, Immortal) of piano and percussion, but its purpose is not to show off. The horn dances with the rest of the music before becoming subsumed by the vocals, but throughout this section and even through the crashing, pounding riffs earlier in the song and even further still through the entire album, there is only one sound, a heady, Gothic melancholy pervading the entire album before culminating in a warm rush of brass to close out the album. The sound is both minimal and infinite; stripped to its barest essentials, its utilitarian form is still a labyrinth of complexities indecipherable without close, rapt attention paid.

With its extended buildups and wailing climaxes, Choirs of the Eye’s influence on the then-nascent post-metal “scene” (Isis had only just released Oceanic a year prior) is abundantly clear, and yet no group has even come close to matching its dauntingly vast emotional range. Choirs of the Eye is a church where the player and the listener join in communion, a place where no sound is allowed to be taken for granted, where every note counts and no new ideas may be introduced until the spectacular gravity of each one preceding is fully understood and exhausted. The album is a levitation trick, slow and determined in its sheer fearlessness. These concepts may sound trite in writing but in practice their power is undeniable; where maudlin of the Well’s composition may have been based in astral projection, Kayo Dot solidified Driver’s ability to craft truly transcendental art. The intent of this piece is not to give false aggrandizement to this music or its creators, but simply to illustrate as truthfully as possible the way music can, at its best, inspire the listener beyond simply hearing a collection of sounds.

Driver has made plenty of great music since this album, with Kayo Dot, solo or in bands like Vaura and Stern, but Choirs of the Eye speaks most deeply to me, perhaps because of my mental state when I first heard it or perhaps just because of its innate purity and perfection.

On the 26th, Kayo Dot will perform Choirs of the Eye in its entirety as part of Toby Driver’s residency at The Stone in NYC. Any readers in the area are urged to attend, as well as maudlin of the Well’s one-off reunion show.


Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.

Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the DayTemple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid BathWhen the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill

  • Dubzlinger, Malandro

    Fantastic work!

  • Dagon

    Tzadik reminds me of Tzatziki, which is delicious. Just as tasty as maudlin, Kayo Dot and everything these people seem to touch and influence.

    Hmmm….

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/citybuzz/2015/06/providence-food/15-Providence-Restaurants-2.jpg

    • Don Henley’s Ego

      I also love Tzatziki.

    • holy fuck that’s all i want now. (that falafel?)

      • Dagon

        Yeah. It’s from a place called Eastside Pockets in Providence, right on Thayer St. at College Hill.

        I urge anyone to try it. I had a serious addiction to these pita bread sandwiches when I was there.

    • Now I want a gyro. Maybe I’ll go to the gyro place for lunch break…

      • Dagon

        Go to providence. It’s worth it, and back in ’12 it costed 6.49.

        • We got some pretty freakin’ good gyros here in Cleveland, too. At a stand in a former train station. Only it’s closed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

    • Malted Hate

      best sauce in town

  • Howard Dean

    I wish I could like this album and this band more than I do. They’ve just never resonated with me. I’ve seen this album praised up and down, but it’s always struck me as painfully boring. Even though it’s “only” 56 minutes long, it feels 500.

    Maybe I’ve never been in the right mood when I’ve tried it before. Maybe I’ll need to give it another shot one day. Maybe I’ll just never enjoy “post-y” bands and sounds.

  • Guacamole Jim

    “Choirs of the Eye’s influence on the then-nascent post-metal ‘scene’ (Isis had only just released Oceanic a year prior) is abundantly clear, and yet no group has even come close to matching its dauntingly vast emotional range.”

    I’ll for sure agree with that. I love post-metal for the range of emotions it seems to grasp, and yet Kayo Dot is a league above and beyond. Fantastic read, even better music.

  • Sir Tapir The Based :]

    Oh man I love this album!

  • Finally giving this album a shot and it’s really, really working for me this morning. Nice work here, Christian.

  • I’ll have to give these guys a shot sooner or later.

  • Hubert

    I should give this a listen, haven’t really looked at this band before. Great article as always Molenaar.

  • I remember that you did an interview to this band before, C. But I never checked them because the avalanche of new music here is overwhelming.

    I’m checking The Manifold Curiosity because of you. The production is very good, from what I’m hearing and it have so many different sounds with different moods in just one package without making it a Dream Theater-like salad.

    Thanks once again, C.

  • Tyree

    The word “Post” intertwined with Metal is a scary thing to me. It’s very rare that I find it enjoyable. I understand why this album is influential and all, but it will never be something that I’ll enjoy. Killer write up though Christian.

    • Hubert

      Post-industrial society?

      • Tyree

        Post-Shit.

  • I realize with each passing day… that my poser-ness is far higher than I previously thought.

    At least I am not into weeaboo music.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6PYAkXO-bU

    GL

    • Mxxk Bxnxntxn™

      Are we now using :] instead of trademark?

      • Copyright, son!

        GL

        • Mxxk Bxnxntxn™© :]

          How about all of them?

          • WHERE THE HELL IS KJM WHEN YOU NEED HIM

            🙁
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6rFjNQUwE

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            He’s probably just high, give him a minute

          • Dubzlinger, Malandro

            He ragequit yesterday.

          • I am hoping for a turnaround. Was/is he on FB?

          • Tyree

            No.

          • Maybe he had a twitter? He always talked about arguing/discussion with ppls on there… Does anyone know it?

          • link’s his twitbro

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Perhaps the elflord can put me in contact with him

          • Don Henley’s Ego

            I follow him on Twitter.

          • Sure, I will try to contact him. Just give me a couple of days. I don’t want to write to him right now, because I don’t know what happened either and I don’t want to think that I’m obstrusive or something like that.

          • Mxxk Bxnxntxn™© :]
          • more beer

            He told me last week if the internet starts getting him mad in a personal way. He takes a vacation from it.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            You guys ruin everything! He was m m m mah frand

          • Dubzlinger, Malandro

            I am not to blame.

          • Hubert

            What happened?

          • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

            I ate him. Then somebody posted a picture of a cat getting eaten. And his remains fled.

          • Hubert

            This explains very little.

          • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

            He quit after a picture of a cat getting eaten by a doge was posted.
            I was not there but to my understanding this is what happened.

          • Hubert

            I can see why that would upset someone. I hope he comes back though, he was cool most of the time.

          • Sir Tapir The Based :]

            I can see how that made him wanna leave. He got pretty angry at someone here when they called cats worthless animals before.

          • Tyree

            Probably me.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            I’ve always known your opinions to be worthless anyway

          • Tyree

            Well, most people do I think.

          • Sir Tapir The Based :]

            No it was definitely someone else that said it.

          • Lacertilinger

            For the record, that was not me.
            Every animal has a niche, even tapirs and humans.

          • Mxxk Bxnxntxn™© :]

            I’m looking yesterday’s post and there is a bunch of deleted comments, were they his?

          • si senor

          • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

            I suppose so.

          • Tyree

            Between KSOFM’s LA Beast Puke video and my Cat hatred.

          • Guacamole Jim

            #NotAllToiletCommenters

          • dubz posted no puke gifs.

          • Sir Tapir The Based :]

            Hey, I came here after he had left and I still don’t known what happened!

          • more beer

            As well as mine. This is very sad.

          • Don Henley’s Ego

            I can’t believe he’d leave us. I need a minute.

          • more beer

            I shall smoke a bowl of the best herb I have in his honor.

          • Don Henley’s Ego

            He’s gone? Nooooooooooo!

          • Tyree

            I sort of feel bad now, I think I was part of the reason he called it quits. Just me being me though.

    • Guppusmaximus

      I think I’m just so tired of the whole Doom & Woe attitude in Metal towards technology. I mean, for a genre that supposedly has no fear about death & dying, these bands certainly do cower in the face of progression…just my .02

  • Stockhausen

    Excellent write up, all-knowing one. I have way, way too much to listen to right now.

  • Hubert

    I LIKE WHAT I’M HEARING

  • Kayylmao Dot

  • M Shadows!

    Where is the hail to the king groundbreakers? 😉

  • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

    Time to put my thinking cap on when Christian is in town! Me brain hurts….

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

    Kayo Dot is awesome, very good live too

  • Don Henley’s Ego

    In other news Columbia House is finally going down for the count. Now the 8 CDS for a penny deal is officially gone.

    • Dubzlinger, Malandro

      I don’t know how any of us will go on after this.

      • tis a shame, i was hoping to get physical copies of Abyssal’s discog on the cheap

      • more beer

        JJD was the only one who could use that deal anyway.

      • Don Henley’s Ego

        I read about in on AV Club. The comments are hysterical.

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    Good album to stare at the wall to.

  • This article enrages me. I am enraged.

  • HessianHunter

    Wow, this shit is magical. Never listened until now.

    • Lacertilinger

      I’m in the same boat, I tried them when they were posted here last year expecting metal and sorta clicked away. I think they had clean vocals?
      Really enjoying all the twists and combinations they’re pulling off in the first track posted here.
      Thanks Christian, your writing helped me appreciate this music.

  • one of my favorite albums ever

  • a pitcher of summer tho