Kitchens and Bathrooms – Vehicles Beyond

Kitchens and Bathrooms
Vehicles Beyond

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Kitchens and Bathrooms, a math-rock trio that hails from Hamilton, Ontario. Lately, when I hear the term math rock being thrown around, I tend to think of dense, highly cerebral music that is focused more on intricate song structures and high-wire instrumentation than on well-developed melodies and emotional subtleties. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the sort of cold, clinical, overtly technical rock that seems to rely on abstract algebraic formulation rather than good old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears. Personally I like to feel my music, not solve hidden equations. However, I do have a large soft spot for the more melodic Midwest math rock that arose to such prominence in the mid- to late-90s when bands like Braid, June of 44, and Shellac were composing some of the most interesting, dynamic, emotive music in recent memory. Luckily for me, Vehicles Beyond is a sincere attempt to pick up where those tremendous artists left off.
Consisting of Phil Williams on guitar, Adrian Murchison on bass, and Lee Penrose on drums, Kitchens and Bathrooms plays a taut and heavy brand of highly rhythmic angular rock that is dark, eerie, and foreboding. Sharp, wiry, nonlinear guitar lines careen and spiral off of muscular bass grooves and relentless syncopated-to-scattershot drums. Little distortion is employed on this recording, but the sound manages to remain thick and propulsive, even as the band shifts and turns from one mind-blowing time signature to the next. The vocals, provided by Williams and Penrose, are sparse but engaging, utilizing introspective Slint-style spoken word ramblings or the occasional burst of mesmerizing melody to complete an atmospheric wall of sound that is breathtaking to behold.
However, Vehicles Beyond is not without its flaws. Originally envisioned as an EP to be released in between full-lengths, the album suffers at times from a disheartening degree of sameness. One cause of this may be the way in which each track flows into the next without any kind of pause or separation. Rather than being left to examine the album on a song-by-song basis, the listener is forced into the position of taking it in as one continuous whole. While I have nothing but respect for anyone undertaking such an ambitious venture, too many of these tracks seem to be cut from the same cloth. Although I can find no specific fault with any of the 11 tracks delivered here, only the glorious, spine-tingling opener “First One in, Last One Out,” and the ominous “Australian Council,” truly differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Indeed, it seems that group would have been better served trusting their original instincts by releasing a shorter, more cohesive EP.
With all that said, this is still an extremely worthy effort. From what I have been told, Vehicles Beyond is a much mellower departure from the band’s two previous releases, which relied more on artful bombast and punk-infused energy. While I’m not in a position to make any sort of comparisons, I will say that I was thoroughly impressed with what I was presented with here. It’s obvious that these guys have talent and imagination to spare, as well as the songwriting skills to back it all up. A little variety, however, would go a long way.