The Curtains



    In recent years, many experimental bands have toyed with the customs of indie pop, embracing the weird through musical unpredictability. Look at the sharp transitions between melody and dissonance to Deerhoof, the otherworldly baselessness of Liars, the multi-instrumental dynamism of Architecture in Helsinki, the unapologetically sincere weirdness of Need New Body. A common theme appears: audacity. That’s something that Chris Cohen — whose contributions to Deerhoof were so vital and inspired — lacks with his band, the Curtains. Calamity drains all the propulsion, assertiveness and sense of purpose of his former band into instantly forgettable experimental twee blandness.



    The Curtains use short, forgettable song sketches to mask a lack of conviction. The band members seem to hope it’s weird, absurd and different, but Calamity is insipid, boring and characterless. Although some might see touching fragility or earnest sensitivity in Cohen’s wavering falsetto and lo-fi production, I hear only a hollowness, the first trembling steps away from a comfort zone (all the more surprising because this the Curtains’ fourth album, though Cohen’s first since he left Deerhoof to focus on this band full time). The album’s lyrical content (the jam-band-cheesy, emoting lyrics of “Old Scott Rd.”) and instrumental composition and performance (“The Thousandth Face,” where the drums sound as if they’re being played by a small child with good manners) are consistently tame. Where’s the humor? Where’s the depth? Where’s the absurdity?


    Highlights are few, because nearly every track is tainted by Cohen’s irritating falsetto, which grates mainly because it’s unclear whether he’s singing earnestly or with his tongue in his cheek. Without committing to that distinction, it must be taken at face value, where it resembles less a decided stylistic choice than an uncertain singer wavering until he finds the note. The pointlessly bizarre “Wysteria” reveals no purpose behind its two minutes of wayward piano and guitar plunking, and the main vocal “melody” is eerily reminiscent of Ron and Sheila Albertson’s version of “Midnight at the Oasis” in Waiting for Guffman. At least the Albertsons knew how to sell it.


    The lone bright spot is the instrumental “Brunswick Stew,” whose interesting groove is built around a keenly realized offbeat riff and spirited hits on funky, diminished minor chords. The track suffers from the (unintentionally) out-of-time drumming, no doubt Cohen certain he can play every instrument but sounding like the non-professional drummer he is. Comparing his remarkable contributions to Deerhoof with this boring, nondescript effort suggests that Cohen should open his studio doors and welcome collaborators. It might be the only way to salvage this flagging effort.



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