Adding to an already extensive catalog, metal experimentalists Kayo Dot have released their latest full-length recording, Plastic House on Base of Sky. The album comes courtesy of Flenser Records, who also released their previous offering, Coffins on Io (read our review here). This new effort finds them continuing to explore the lush, synthesizer-based approach of that album, but there have been significant developments as well.
If Coffins of Io displayed a love and embrace for Eighties synthpop and postpunk, Plastic House on Base of Sky represents a subversion of that stylistic move. Here, those genres, ones admittedly enjoying a resurgence, act as a Trojan horse containing all of Kayo Dot‘s challenging, avant-garde tendencies. Album opener “Amalias Theme” sounds like a New Wave song, but its mantralike melody is stretched out to a seven-minutes-plus running time. The effect is hypnotic. Keith Abrams’ glitchy drum work, almost evoking an electronic influence, is also worthy of note.”All the Pain in the World” continues these strategies, but this time the drums seem to completely disintegrate into a caustic clatter and collapse, hinting at anything from Test Dept. and Einstürzende Neubauten to the breakdown in DJ Shadow‘s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt.”
“Magnetism” and “Rings of Earth” both channel a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk atmosphere, and the synthesizer work is reminiscent of Jean Michael Jarre, Vangelis or newer acts like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut. “Rings of Earth” is particularly interesting due to the rhythmic interplay between the keyboards and drums, a complex dance with the vocals soaring over the top of the exchange.
The album closes with the more subdued “Brittle Urchin,” A short piece, clocking in at less than five minutes, it serves as a gentle coda to the album. Much of the song consists of keyboards and vocals, and even when the drums do come in, the mood remains quite calm.
It is fascinating to consider the stylistic turn Kayo Dot has chosen to make over their last two albums. One is left to wonder if they truly hold any relationship to metal anymore, and if so, what exactly makes a piece of music “heavy”? There is certainly nothing resembling a metal guitar riff to be found here, yet the emotional and atmospheric intensity is certainly as present as ever.
Also, while Coffins on Io seemed like a direct engagement with synthpop and postpunk, Plastic House on Base of Sky feels like a much different and more subversive take on those styles. How conscious an effort was that as well? Given their experimental history, one is certainly not surprised to find the band constantly shifting, even when working with such a similar sonic palette. Now, we are left to wonder, as always, what comes next? The same question came up in the review of Coffins on Io, and the eternal suspension of an answer s perhaps Kayo Dot‘s greatest asset, compelling their fans to always return to find the truth on their own.
Stream/buy Plastic House on Base of Sky on Bandcamp: