Review: Deftones’ Volcanic, Stratospheric Koi No Yokan
For listeners seated in the passenger side of the Deftonesmobile for the past 15 years or more, it’s been a super-fun ride. And seventh album Koi No Yokan (Reprise) is a new, thrilling, memorable, and scenic jaunt on this second leg of the Sacramento quintet’s voyage through alt-scream-dream-Meshuggah-Neurosis-Durans-Cure-core. That is, Koi is the sophomore album by the band that the Deftones became after shelving their completed Eros album — the one once set for release before the critical injury to founding bassist Chi Cheng (help here); now, the Deftones of Koi and 2010’s triumphant but embryonic Diamond Eyes is a adventurous heavy band no longer shackled by withering friendships, now matched to a different kind of ace producer, and newly committed to hooks and structure not just melody and blunt force.
If we think of Diamond Eyes as counterpart to Around The Fur — for those albums’ shared track order and vibe — then it’s easy for Koi to be viewed as Deftones.2’s White Pony, and as it happens, perfectly accurate: Each is an Olympic vault to a higher creative plateau, a depiction of this band getting awesomer at a new awesomeness, and a plunge into the depths of consciousness’ oceans. Its hooks are Duran Duran-level (that is, godly) and its proportions The Cure-sized (that is, planetary). As White Pony did to Around The Fur, Koi renders Diamond Eyes almost quaint. Well lol by comparison anyway.
Here’s part of what I mean: Koi No Yokan is seamless. Deftones flights of weirdness once stood alone, were once awarded their own generous outros (eg. White Pony‘s “Rx Queen”) and their own songs (Saturday Night Wrist‘s “Pink Cellphone”). Here, blurps and blarms support songs instead of trailing or standing beside them: See “Entombed,” whose keys ¹ and blinks of pitch-shifted bass are found among the folds of a more fruitful and assured go at the conventionality of Diamond Eyes‘ “Sextape.” (The jam’s tapped guitar theme also hints at either an out-of-box Stef Carpenter or a wildly-improved Chino Moreno — I don’t know who played it. Either way: Yahtzee!)
Witness also “Goon Squad,” an aggro space jam suited for a 2012 Faith No More album yet could pass for a Deftoned outtake from The Police’s Ghost In The Machine. And let’s examine “Graphic Nature,” in which drummer Abe Cunningham reconfigures his “Digital Bath” beats as featherweight groove and in which we listeners can erupt at the first plates-shifting Carpenter-Vega teaming. Also, “Graphic” reminds us of Deftones.1’s mastery of track order, hinting as it does at the imminent cannon battle of “Tempest,” Koi‘s centerpiece ².
In fact, all of Side B ³ might make a dude wonder from whence comes the inspiration for Carpenter, a super-fan of Tech N9ne and stuff, to hatch guitar parts that approximate the dropping of an aircraft carrier onto a stadium. That is until Koi‘s flighty, flickery, Nobel-eligible finale “What Happened To You?”, one of those identifiable but purely original uber-jamz like “Cuckoo” by Curve, XTC’s “Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her,” and the Deftones’ own dizzying, unsettling “MX.”
By then, the awesomeness and advancements of Koi seem more miraculous with the knowledge that it’s an album that might’ve never happened, and a sequel to an album that itself hurdled over adversity to enter the material world. But here it is, Koi No Yokan, in the full bloom of friends determined to honor and awaken their prostrate partner, in the state of style (not swag) and kinetic power (not violence) which they invented, in a mode of matured boldness and nothing-to-prove/oyster-world ambition. And accordingly, it wins big on all the breathtaking, awe-striking song craft and performance that accompanies daring studz who play pop music, and reiterates their rank among the singular American titans: Talking Heads, Steely Dan, Slayer. DEFTONES.
¹ Oh here’s another parallel to White Pony: Keys/effects guy Frank Delgado’s handprints are visible all over Koi.
² It was risky to unveil “Tempest” ahead of and apart from Koi; I can state with no hyperbole that its impact is a bajillion times awesomer among its neighboring tracks.
³ Koi also bears a Mars Voltaic Björkism in “Gauze”; y’know what shit Björk should cover the jam she would run a dwarfbang on that.