There's experimental music I can stand and there's
experimental music that I can't. I can stand this
nay, more than that, I can really dig this.
It's not easy. It doesn't immediately grab you and
reel you in with hooks. It doesn't make you feel
sentimental, or really emotional at all. Instead, it
touches other cerebral vortexes of the mind, reaching
into dark crevices usually reserved for those rare
occasions in which you're forced to think really,
really hard; something The Curtains, undoubtedly, had
to do in order to create these recordings.
This stuff takes some serious thinking. You don't pull
it out of a broken heart or grab it from some
inspiration floating languidly by. You gotta sit down
and let your brain hurt for a while to get this. You
have to let go of everything you normally associate
with music and song. You have to let go the notion
that music requires things like structure and
melody. That doesn't mean spitting out a bunch of
chaotic noise like you're dumping a truckload of
instruments on the pavement. It means finding a new
way to arrange sounds in nontraditional order and
still come out with something powerful enough to
touch the listener. It's discovering the sense in
nonsense. And, after having thought really hard about
it, I believe The Curtains have scored big with Vehicles of Travel.
"Sometimes a pop anthem needs a little on the side,"
says a male character in the song "Hooligans"; the vocals are breezy and
distant, making the character sound as if he were talking to you from
the dark corners of your mind or in some weird dream.
And the man, Max Maxwell, is right
even pop lovers need an alternative every now and
then. And being that they don't fall into the
thrashing, incohesive, hardcore experimental
meandering, The Curtains light, spacey, minimal and
complex dish out just the right alternative.
It should come as no surprise that The Curtains' sound, featuring Deerhoof drummer/keyboardist Greg Saunier, recalls Deerhoof's. Instruments strings, keys,
beats and the occasional electronic effects are
arranged so that they overlap and intersect in ways
you know someone had to hurt their brain over. On
first listen, the music seems sluggish and unassuming,
sounding like the unpredictable tinkering of a child.
But listen harder, think harder, and it becomes clear
that these songs, all 22 of them, are not the result
of some improv session. Funky and groove-soaked, "Cops
in Cologne" sounds like it could have occurred on some
dark, red-lit stage in a '60s Beat poet club, while the
ominous "City of Paris" is definitely threatening to
come and get you with its swift tickling riffs and
Someone carefully orchestrated this set. Someone
worked hard at making the spiraling, go-nowhere guitar
lines meet the bizarre time changes, and the menacing
bass and tribal drumming thunder oddly on the horizon.
You might be getting the idea that, indeed, there is
structure here, but don't let my rendering mislead you.
While traditional instruments are on hand and they
make their respective traditional tones, the places
that they go, the curvy paths they take and the
brilliantly bizarre ways they choose to travel
together are astounding this is one hell of a