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REVIEW: Toby Driver – “Madonnawhore”

Toby Driver is the multi-instrumentalist composer polymath behind Maudlin of The Well, Kayo Dot and too many other projects to list here. Madonnawhore is his fourth solo album, due for release on April 21.

The Album

Madonnawhore departs from Driver’s usual avant-garde faire. The six-song, 44-minute album has no elements of metal, jazz, noise or other outré genres that he delved in over his extensive career. Remaining, one can hear plain, straightforward songwriting with an ambient post-rock feel. The instrumentation on Madonnawhore is minimal; guitar, bass and light amounts of keyboard predominate. He also keeps the percussion to a minimum. This might sound pretty normal, but Toby Driver fans rarely expect ‘normal’ from him.

The album still has Driver’s penchant for atmosphere embedded in its compositions. While that might not only be because he seems to have gone to the Devin Townsend school of reverb mixing, that factor does definitely play a role on Madonnawhore. The songs are long, ranging from five to nine minutes, which is not at all unusual in Driver’s repertoire. Songs like “Avignon” and “Craven’s Dawn” evoke a sense of peace and emptiness, the kind of quiet satisfied state that precedes death (or a much-needed sleep). Driver used traditional, familiar song structures when writing them. Admittedly, this might not sound strange, but the direction will surprise Kayo Dot fans. Perhaps in not relying on bizarre instrumentation, unpredictable structures and other elements that evoke astral projection, Madonnawhore is Toby Driver’s most daring release in years.

The Madonnawhore Concept

Sigmund Freud invented this trope. It implies that heterosexual men can only see women as either saintly and pure (the ‘madonna’ part of it) or as debased and hyper-sexual (take a guess which part that is), the result being an inability to maintain sexual arousal in a committed, loving relationship. This concept’s influence on popular culture is felt far and wide; its influence on this album is another matter. The songs evoke beauty, awe and, for the most part, completion. Frustration does not seem to play a part in Madonnawhore. Any connection to it can perhaps be found in either the lyrics or in the mind of Toby Driver himself. This bears mentioning here because as a solo album stripped of expected artifice, Madonnawhore is a very personal work of Toby Driver, most likely intended to reflect his deepest thoughts and worries. But maybe it has nothing to do with him at all. Anyone familiar with his work will concur that it can be hard to tell with him sometimes.

Clever fans might note that the word ‘maudlin’ has an etymology deriving from ‘Magdalene’ as in Mary Magdalene, a biblical figure and prostitute both contrasted to and allied with the Virgin Mary (aka ‘Madonna’). Curiously enough,  Madonnawhore does not sound anything like Toby Driver’s earlier, heavier band Maudlin Of The Well.

The Man

In spite of having not reached his 40th birthday yet, Toby Driver has been active in music for over 20 years at this time of writing; his discography has over 40 titles in it by now. It is safe to assume he played every instrument on Madonnawhore, since he plays more than ten instruments (this album, by the way, uses fewer than five). As an artist, Toby Driver has delved into regions far and wide: metal, noise, jazz, chamber music and, on Madonnawhore, minimalism. In all of his work, he has shown both originality and the capacity to challenge listeners and expand minds, this album being no exception.

Toby Driver's "Madonnawhore" album shows nothing but the man himself, much like the album.

 

Score: 8/10

Notable Tracks: “The Scarlet Whore – Her Dealings”; “Avignon”; “Craven’s Dawn”

FFO: Kayo Dot, Maudlin Of The Well, Tartar Lamb

Madonnawhore can be previewed and pre-ordered on Bandcamp and iTunes. Toby Driver has profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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