Writing reviews of albums that hardly anyone will listen to is becoming an increasingly pointless task, as I ponder its usefulness while far more pressing matters take up one’s time. I suppose if it serves as a diversion from the dark zeitgeist for just one person out there in reader land, then it is worth doing. Reviewing an atramentous slab of uncompromising, albeit strangely contemplative music such as this makes the task doubly difficult, but I’ll give it a go.
Toby Driver is the driving force behind sonic experimenters Kayo Dot, and his colleague on this outing is musician, writer, and filmmaker Nick Hudson. They got together in February in New York for an outing to see Mr Bungle, and decided to make full use of their time by booking some studio time with engineer/producer Marc Urselli. Black Feather Under Your Tongue is the result on 90 minutes of recording, with a deliberate aim for spacious minimalism, all totally improvised. Efficiency at work, I think!
The duo were scheduled to be playing a few shows over here in the UK in March, but inevitably these were cancelled due to the plague clampdown. In the meantime, they have left us with this almost too realistic piece of work. Let’s don the PPE – if we can find any – and jump into the barrel of flies…
A quiet intensity pervades Nick Hudson’s lonely piano chords of the first half of opening number Black Ecstasy, soon to be backed by a distant muted heartbeat rhythm, until the piano breaks free to create a more expansive but still fragile atmosphere for the second half of the piece. In response, Toby strums careful notes as the rain begins to fall.
Nick’s wordless vocals cry out over the mournful introduction to First Was the Word Was the Virus as a muezzin vibrating the infected air we breathe, calling the listener to inner contemplation for the desperately sad times we live in. Later, Toby’s echoed guitar bounces around a crypt as death-cackle rattles and the voice skim off the underground walls. While this may not be the music you want to hear right now, it does serve a purpose, unless you are more inclined to attempt to blot out the wave of pestilent thoughts than to acknowledge them and move forward. We’ve all been in a mood of denial and a mood of acceptance at different times, I’m sure.
Just to lighten the mood, When I Saw the Star sees Nick pondering our insignificance in the grand scheme of things, this time with some minimal lyrics, as well as his voice-as-instrument wailing into the void, to the backing of Toby’s plucked and reverbed guitar. The whole sees me imagining an anti-John Martyn howling from the bottom of a pit of existential despair. We end with Martial Hauntology, a jaunty little number featuring a spoons solo… or not.
Heck, I need to go into denial mode after that. Where did I put that Slade album?
01. Black Ecstasy (10:03)
02. First Was The Word Was The Virus (10:24)
03. When I Saw The Star (12:27)
04. Martial Hauntology (9:17)
Total Time – 42:12
Nick Hudson – Piano, Vocals
Toby Driver – Guitar
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date Of Release: 12th February 2020