Genre explorer Toby Driver plunges deep into cinematic ballads on They Are the Shield | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Genre explorer Toby Driver plunges deep into cinematic ballads on They Are the Shield

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Few people in heavy music are as versatile or prolific as New York multi-instrumentalist and singer Toby Driver. With his exploratory bands Kayo Dot, Maudlin of the Well, and Vaura; his electro-goth group Piggy Black Cross; and his long list of other collaborative and solo projects, he’s consistently digging into new sounds and textures, sometimes engineering unlikely combinations of influences—avant-garde metal, jazz, postrock—even within a single track. On his second solo album, last year’s Madonnawhore (The Flenser), he annexes still more fresh territory, making his first full-scale venture into ballads. With a palette of spacious atmospheres created by minimalist guitars and electronics, these somber, cinematic songs occupy a space of contemplation, longing, and grief, but the inventive arrangements and the gossamer touch of the processed vocals and guitars keep the music from feeling weighed down by those emotions. If Driver was dipping a proverbial toe into these waters on Madonnawhore, then on last month’s They Are the Shield (Blood Music) he’s immersed himself completely. With a team of like-minded talents, including avant-garde violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, experimental pianist Kelly Moran, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, Driver augments the lonely, dreamy moods of his previous album with shimmering string arrangements and a bigger, more complex backdrop of cool electronics and darkly romantic atmospheres—it feels like a midnight sky embracing the lights of a city beneath it. Driver foregrounds vocals here more than he ever has before, both his own and those of Bridget Bellavia from Piggy Black Cross (who also works with Driver and Chase in synth-rock band Paranoid Fiction)—she delivers a stunning guest turn on “Scaffolds of Digital Snow.” Fans who love only Driver’s noisy, jarring bands should probably move along, but if you’re wondering what a committed adventurer like him would do with the torch song, this show is a great way to find out.   v

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