There's a lot to absorb in the 100 minutes that make up Hubardo, an ambitious concept album about a meteor that falls to earth and transforms a lonely poet. Longtime fans of Kayo Dot can hear bits and pieces of the avant-metal band's decade of sonic transgression weave in and out — twisted Gorguts-ian death metal, ominous sound structures that cross The Cure and Scott Walker, a healthy taste for King Crimson. The album's third track, "Thief," is a reminder that leader Toby Driver has no problem doing all three at once.
Barreling out of a reverb tunnel like a Birthday Party song on a psychotropic bender, "Thief" turns into a polyrhythmic crooner only a minute later. Driver is a master of setting the unease before the payoff, in this case a hefty section led by swirling organ and a sax-y skronk. On an album that starts as a gnarly metallic beast and ends on a zen note, "Thief" nearly splits the difference.
In thinking about Hubardo, I went back to the debut episode of the increasingly excellent 5049 Podcast, smartly hosted by New York composer and clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman. The first guest features Toby Driver in a reflective mode, thinking about not only 10 years of the ever-morphing Kayo Dot, but also what it means to think of the audience. More extreme forms of music are often seen as antagonistic, even baiting (and for some, that's exactly the point). But in a poignant moment of the conversation, Driver says, "I didn't take the time to think of the outsider's perspective," adding later, "I don't think it's any less pure to take the listener into consideration."
So much music that's deemed "challenging" is an unknowable inward process expressed outwardly. The audience comes to and connects with the artist; it's rarely the other way around, at least not at first. Hubardo retains the uncompromising and forward-moving spirit of Kayo Dot, but there's also an extended hand at play — perhaps the thing that Driver says "resolves something in my life."
Hubardo comes out digitally in late August on Ice Level Music, with vinyl to come later.