ALBUM OF THE DAY
Album of the Day: Toby Driver, “They Are the Shield”
By Antonio Poscic · October 08, 2018 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

At its core, They Are the Shield is an album of touching ballads—an idiosyncratic fork in Toby Driver’s career as an experimental producer. On Shield, Driver’s compositions are fluid, hazily reminiscent of his earlier works but reshaped and tinged with goth, industrial, and art-pop. “Anamnesis Park” is a captivating cut driven forward by the melancholy dance of Pauline Kim Harris’s and Conrad Harris’s violins, underscored by a warm, synthetic backdrop. The arrangement feels dense and captivating: the bass and percussion are a fitting stage for Driver’s silvery voice and cryptic lyrics.

While the moods on Shield are often monochromatic, they are contrasted with a bright, technicolor background of shimmering strings and synthesizers. Take “Glyph,” for instance: it maintains a dark aura as Driver sings wistfully about “two unexploded bombs in this town” before the album shifts to a procession of chamber pop flourishes on the faster and upbeat “470 Nanometers.”

The cinematic “Scaffold of Digital Snow” returns to a more somber tone with longer instrumental sections and Bridget Bellavia’s sorrowful singing. But it’s “Smoke-Scented Mycelium” and “The Knot” that provide the record’s climax. They first reflect Driver at his most urgent and raw, before introducing polished pop saturated with discordant strings and piano. Driver’s soaring voice dominates these tracks and carries almost unrestrained emotion as he sings “Love is my frailty,” laying bare the album as a whole—fraught with gorgeous contrasts.

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