Kitchens and Bathrooms – Utter a Sound

Kitchens and Bathrooms
Utter a Sound

From the ages of 12 to 15, I didn’t have a proper stereo – my number never came up at Christmas or something, despite the rather obvious hints I attempted to drop – and when I wanted to listen to my favorite albums, I had a pair of six-inch speakers I’d have to plug into my portable CD player. Invariably, as always happens, the left one broke, and for a good nine months I rocked out, every night, to the right channel. Maybe I’ve become a snob, maybe my tastes have matured, maybe being so intimately involved in music has altered how I listen to it – but if I had to revert to that setup now, I would probably opt to be run over by a municipal bus instead.
I say this because despite my niggling problems with it, Kitchens and Bathrooms’ Utter a Sound is really, really good. “Math rock” is becoming a more reviled phrase than “Hootie cover band” these days, but when bands do their homework and ensure that their work is engaging on more than a technical level – Drive Like Jehu, why did you ever leave us? – they can leave a lasting impression that bands opting for a more traditional musical route couldn’t achieve. Kitchens and Bathrooms, needless to say, can write a damned engaging song. “Museum of Steam and Technology,” for example, lays excitable, antsy guitar and bass over a polyrhythmic drum part – but it doesn’t feel as though it was derived from an equation. This is how technical rock should be: structured, but with the feeling of exploration and momentum.
To be a little more specific, Kitchens and Bathrooms have derived their sound by updating the foundations Slint built way back when, and by ignoring a lot of the more mediocre twists and turns which math-rock bands have chosen to take since 1989. It’s all here – the occasional spoken-word (albeit neither as frequent nor as dramatic as Brian McMahon’s vignettes), the extended plays and variations on a riff which will suddenly drop out to another, quieter section, and the instrumentation, which juggles complexity and simplicity very well. I feel far more at home here than with, say, Don Caballero’s ridiculously complex 13/5-over-11/4 time signaturethons, or with any number of bands on any given local circuit who think that taking all the words out of the breakdown of a hardcore song makes you math-rock. (Hint: chugga-chugga-chugging in Drop D, however awesome it sounds at practice, is the most boring thing ever to sit through at a show. We promise.)
But, alas, I’ve mentioned my niggling problems before, and I suppose I have to be straightforward about them: I do not like the production on this album. It seems to have been recorded with the aforementioned Slint in mind, and, as such, the production values are largely unupdated. I feel as though a lot of this album’s crescendoes are stifled a bit by flabby distortion or mixes that put the vocals too far back, and during the quieter sections the snare drum often feels flat and lifeless. These issues are probably going to be inaudible to 95 percent of this band’s potential audience, and seeing them live (fellow Canadians take note!) would undoubtedly negate most of these issues. But it took me, the cranky audiophile, several listens to really get into the meat of this album and past my hangups on the sound. The non-judgemental and those of us who are livid that David Pajo is in a fucking band with Billy fucking Corgan, however, would do well to pick up this album at their nearest convenience.