I once had a teacher who told me that the best music is composed in such a way that you ?don?t see the seams?, meaning that the music has so much substance and craft that the tools and techniques behind its making don?t draw attention to themselves. In experimental music where the process or technique can be so strongly tied to the resulting music it?s often difficult to create music that is still able to make an emotional as well as intellectual connection. It is almost always a major achievement when a band is able to pull it off. Such is the music on "Vehicles of Travel," an impossibly simple collection of 23 miniatures made up of playful melodies, stiff rhythms, and perplexing harmonies.
In a world where experimentation is often met with anger and hostility The Curtains play some of the friendliest avant-garde around. Each of the tracks on "Vehicles of Travel" are composed with great affection for the musical material and the pleasure the band takes in playing the music quickly rubs off on the listener. It?s practically impossible not to warm up to songs like ?Fletcher?s Favorite? or ?April Galleons? making for an album that achieves, by totally different means, what brethren Deerhoof so brilliantly accomplished on their most recent outing, "Milk Man." The Curtains are showing with great ease that innovation and ingenuity are not synonymous with dissonance and abrasiveness. The proof is in how striking a seemingly simple little tune like ?Observation Towers? can be when filtered through Cohen?s playful compositional style and Maxwell?s deadpan singing and cryptic lyrics.
If The Curtains debut "Fast Talks" was the quiet album and its follow-up "Flybys" the loud one, then Vehicles of Travel is the perfect synthesis of the two. "Vehicles of Travel" has all the frantic energy of "Flybys" while still paying great attention to subtle changes of chords, rhythm, and instrumentation featured more prominently on "Fast Talks." The drumming is much more subdued than on "Flybys," finding Maxwell playing less like a free jazzer and more in a style belonging only to The Curtains. But what most sets "Vehicles of Travel" apart from its predecessors is its attention to detail. While "Flybys" rarely strayed from the instrumentation of synthesizer, guitar, and drums "Vehicles" goes far beyond, though if you aren?t paying close attention you may not even notice. Things like harpsichord, guitar overdubs, and sound effects are so well integrated into the music that the listener isn?t always aware they even exist.
There is also quite a bit more singing on this album than in the past. Vocals have always taken a back seat in The Curtains, making an appearance on only one or two tracks on each of the band?s first two albums. "Vehicles of Travel," however, has vocals throughout with an almost totally even balance between instrumental and sung tracks. The lyrics are, as usual, somewhat impenetrable. With lyrics about things like eating soap, being punched in the face by a Swiss cop, and other equally puzzling topics it can be perplexing but never irritating to try and make sense out of it.
The hardest thing to do in music is to create something truly new. The Curtains have not only achieved this with ease but sound damn good doing it. The band has flawlessly perfected a sound that was already completely removed from any current trends or styles and is now freely playing around with the material at their disposal. "Vehicles of Travel" is hands down one of the finest releases of the year. 9/10 -- Nick Hennies (25 May, 2005)