Kayo Dot is the very definition of avant-garde music. Implementing elements of jazz, rock, metal, and electronics, among other things, have made the band impossible to predict from album to album. Most times, Kayo Dot will mix it all together like on 2013’s masterful Hubardo. Funded by pre-orders, the record felt like a loving tribute to the devoted fans of Toby Driver and company. There were elements chamber music and metal all over the album but with all the rock sensibilities one might expect from Kayo Dot. Coffins on Io is a drastic change of direction, sounding more like a bizarre 1980s era science fiction soundtrack. Despite sounding like a truly original concept and idea, Coffins on Io never quite reaches the potential it should.
Coffins on Io has every element fans of 1980s new wave want from the genre. There are creepy drones, heavy drums, melodic guitars, and sharp bass lines all over the record. This sound grouping sets the tone as well as they possibly can, creating a track listing that could be implemented into any classic sci-fi film like Blade Runner or Alien. The drones weigh heaviest on the record, giving life to songs that are almost too light at moments. The heavy reliance on these electronics are a double-edged sword thoughout, adding to the mystique but also distracting listeners from the incredible instrumentals. The real star of the album are the brass sections, though; the saxophone is especially bright, taking over songs at the perfect moments. Kayo Dot really stretch themselves out this time around, causing the album to feel too distant to truly pull someone into it’s psychedelic vibes.
Of the six tracks present on the record, there are equal hits-and-misses. “The Mortality of Doves” kicks off the album in a somewhat enjoyable fashion, but the track is far too long for it’s own good. The trippy guitars and spaced-out vocals are of the highest quality, but the track length forces the instrumental to become too weak and lost in the mix. The last two tracks are equally uneventful, as well. “The Assassination of Adam” has one of the more interesting opening segments, hitting the progressive rock vibe that most would have anticipated. The second half devolves into a sudden slow tempo change that chokes off all of the momentum, leaving little interest even as the delightful saxophone comes into play. The closer is the most disappointing, ending the album on a ten minute slog. “Spirit Photography” is like a slow jazz jam session that is precisely measured. The instrumental is incredibly weak, undermining the darkest and most interesting lyrical writing of the album. The lack of energy that closes Coffin on Io off is like an average movie: it never moves one to love it or hate; it is just there.
It’s not all bad, though. “Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22” is the best example of what a sci-fi album should sound like. The instrumental here is just astounding, utilizing beautiful drums and bass that make the song poppy at moments. It features the best song building as well, having a robust chorus that is worth humming along to after just one listen. “Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile” is a good short track to break up the more ambitious attack. Everything just works here, especially the boisterous drums and drone that kick in to end the track. “Library Subterranean” is the best song to sink one’s teeth into, being the heaviest and most metallic in tone, with a a solid amount of life present here. The bass and electronic samples hit as hard as needed, while the vocals and guitars guide the song into a highly energetic pacing. The only shortcoming is a weak breakdown that never goes anywhere, but is recovered by amazing saxophone work soon after.
Kayo Dot are always swinging for the fences with all the experimentation they throw into new releases. For most of their career, they have settled for a strong double that might knock in a few runs. Coffins on Io is more like a well hit single, being just good enough to register but not really enamor the audience. There is good instrumentation all over the album and the vocals are better than some past releases as well, but the overall mixing and long tracks hurt the momentum that is direly needed. Coffins on Io is nothing to scoff as a Kayo Dot fan, but there is better output coming in the future.
1. The Mortality of Doves
2. Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22
3. Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile
4. Library Subterranean
5. The Assassination of Adam
6. Spirit Photography