Sometimes it feels as though words like “experimental” were invented solely for critics to hide behind and explain away any bouts of unconventional creativity they may come across. “What do you mean this doesn’t have a chorus???” etc. Then sometimes you run into a collective like New York’s Kayo Dot, whose leader Toby Driver seems to have, by means of his output with the band, inserted himself into a lineage of avant-garde musicians that can be traced back over the last half-century to artists like John Coltrane and Peter Brötzmann all the way down to John Zorn and King Crimson’s proggy ramblings.
The latter is brought specifically to mind with Driver’s Adrian Belew-style vocal on “Calonyction Girl,” the opening track of Kayo Dot’s fourth studio album, Coyote (Hydra Head). Driver also handles bass duties throughout, but he’s by no means the whole show on the album. With both alto and tenor sax – courtesy of Daniel Means and Terran Olson, respectively – Tim Byrnes’ trumpet, David Bodie’s sundry percussives and the contributions of longtime member Mia Matsumiya on violin and guitar, Kayo Dot is as much a band on Coyote as it ever was. Each member has a specific role to play in the ultimately surprising and oddly engaging outcome.
Disjointed instrumentation is toyed with toward the latter moments of “Whisper Ineffable,” particularly between Byrnes on trumpet and Driver on bass, but there are also subtle injections of noise and drums throughout that confirm once again that nothing is ever simple with Kayo Dot. I’m not at all convinced Coyote has a straightforward moment, “Abyss Hinge 1: Sleeping Birds Sighing in Roscolux” being not much more than a 3:46 lead in for the 13:40 of “Abyss Hinge 2: The Shrinking Armature,” although the latter does see the horn section meet up, however briefly, for some memorable note runs, and that’s at very least planned out beforehand, Matsumiya’s violin and the drums playing out a patterned rhythm behind while the rumble of Driver’s bass provides a foundation.