Toby Driver – They Are The Shield (English Review)

Here’s today’s top question: Does solitude liberate a person? Is it, for instance, possible to find an established cause-and-effect relationship in Toby Driver‘s case, who has remained for many years now in the underground music scene and continues to make his wind blow whichever way he pleases? If so, what principles of air pressure and dynamics apply to this particular wind? Examining Driver, we are yet to reach a hypothesis. He is the kind of man who collides air currents to create his unique, otherwordly atmosphere. It’s in his nature. At first there was a storm named maudlin of The Well, an often jazzy avant-garde metal project. Then came the little sibling who grew up to live longer: Kayo Dot, with its own “weird metal” label, proved to be massive among fans.

The mighty storm eventually wore tranquiler moods. 2014’s Coffins on Io was nothing short of a summer night breeze, as dark as it was, a certain gothic serenity dictated the record. Perhaps this was a turning point in Driver’s career, though it is difficult to be certain sşnce it has only been 4 years. What we can say for sure is that from that day on, the distortion effect on guitars became less and less central. 2016’s psychedelic masterpiece Plactic House on Base Sky was the last Kayo Dot album up to now. That case is put to a shelf, waiting for reanimation. Driver, on the other hand, initially seemed to be in need of a change in name and image. Instead of starting a new band, he decided to expand his work as a solo artist. Madonnawhore, fully armed with its lengthy dream-pop ballads, became the first studio album of this new era. (And not Driver’s first studio record. 2005’s In the L..L..Library Loft holds this honor for itself, and coincides with the Kayo Dot era.)

They Are The Shield, Driver’s third solo album, is again something that breathes in its own atmosphere. An air as red and foggy as the cover itself, while still somehow remaining direct. As dreamy as Madonnawhore, while leaning more towards the border of nightmares. Yet, this purgatorial feeling can by no means be an indication of what’s in line for the next record. To restate the first paragraph, the whole process of air flowing goes on by its own science. This journey part aside, we’re in for an elegance without end. The whole music is beautiful, and utterly chique by its own standards. First we gaze through “Anamnesis Park”, driven by the power of strings that don’t vanish until the last song, and it contributes to the album’s hypnotic effect which yields a chasm much like the hpynotic pendulums used in psychoanalysis. Driver’s vocals arrive halftime in only to increase this effect, long after we start drifting in our subconscious.

Coming up next is the astonishing “Glyph”, where an amazingly gloomy sounding violin melts into Driver’s voice. This song is a strong contender for any future “Driver’s Greatest Hits” compliation. A striker so raw, yet so refined and cinematic. The surprisingly energetic “470 Nanometers” is unironically the most danceable song in the repertoire, it seems out of place in a rather nice way. One may wonder if it’s the rework on an old, unfinished song. If that’s the case, what we hear can be seen as a nice fresh air of nostalgia. “Scaffold of Digital Snow” brings about another surprise: A guest vocal. The woman we’re listening to is none other than Driver’s girlfriend and colleauge, Bridget Bellavia. If I am correct in memory, the duo had performed this song live already in last year’s Istanbul concert. (I may be wrong, so if any of the 20 people who were there could confirm this, I would be really happy.) From here, the purgitorial winds carry us to another foggy stop called “Smoke-Scented Mycelium”. The last song,“The Knot”, sees Driver in his full “singer-songwriter” capacity. He’s apparently in a room where the sound of instruments come from afar, leaving him solely with his voice: Isolated, appalling and strong.

Where we are headed from here is probably a mystery for Driver himself. If one likes to know what’s going on in his mind, they could use a small chat after his next Istanbul concert in November. A nice opportunity to share our solitude and to collide our winds.

SCORE: 9/10