Sunday, October 25, 2009

maudlin of the Well: Part the Second

Artist: Maudlin of the Well
Album: Part the Second
Date Released: May 14, 2009
Genre: progressive rock, indie metal, avante-garde
Rating: 8.5

Five years after their transmutation into the ponderous and esoteric 'chamber-metal' ensemble Kayo Dot, band leader Toby Driver reunites maudlin of the Well (abbreviated motW) for Part the Second [free download], an exuberant, fan-funded effort that is both a maturation and culmination of their unique 'bricolage' compositional style. Like Kayo Dot, motW revel in dream imagery, lush, dense arrangements and a seamlessly through-composed approach to writing. But unlike Kayo Dot, who, especially in their most recent work, tend to entangle listeners in lengthy, free-time, atonal jazz-rock enigmas, motW conjure melodically rich and inviting explorations of genre, providing vistas that are at once familiar and yet, like all of Driver's work, wonderfully strange and ephemeral.

By all appearances, Kayo Dot has had a strange and difficult road in the past few years, chiefly for having survived a reconstruction that began with the loss of all their personnel apart from Driver and violinist Mia Matsumiya. As a listener, it's difficult not to psychologize by drawing some comparison to the band's equally strange and difficult music. With that in mind, it's heartening to hear something so unencumbered, so pure and playful born from this reunion. Take "Clover Garland Island", which begins with stabbing drums and sinister chords and then innocently morphs into a laid-back funk groove overlayed with guitarist Greg Massi's wah-fueled explorations. Or "Rose Quartz Turning into Glass", the early part of which is borne on a piano riff evoking Steve Reich. This slowly trails off until it is only Matsumiya's violin, which is eventually joined by somberly strummed guitar and Driver doing his best impression of a wraith skulking through a graveyard. And then, well, it starts to sound a little like Floyd. You can almost see the smiles creeping onto everyone's faces during recording.

Admist all of this there are moments of stirring beauty, especially manifest on the final track "Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)". The song begins with a lone, meditative guitar and then Driver's wistful voice adds "We are bound together by a current of electricity." And then a voice seems to call to him from somewhere far away: "I want you to think about '93". The rest of the track is a breathtaking flurry of ideas building to a sprawling amphitheater of sound. And just when it all seems through, a piano shimmers in to deliver a brief, stirring epilogue to the album.

Part the Second is likely to be motW's swansong. And though their spirit continues on in the form of Kayo Dot, it has been clear since their second album Dowsing Anenome with Copper Tongue that Driver has very different and very ambitious designs for that moniker (Kayo Dot's first album, Choirs of the Eye, serves as a bridge between the bands' styles, and is considered by many to be Driver's finest moment). Hopefully, then, Part the Second will draw listeners to seek music from motW's earlier incarnation, who were, in their own time as they are now, as complete a musical anomaly as anyone is likely to hear.

Reviewed by Jayar La Fontaine.

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