MY FIRST EXPOSURE to the Curtains was at a house party. In a sweaty basement crammed with drunken revelers and fashionistas, an unlikely trio played in the corner. Like some kind of autistic lounge jazz combo, guitarist Chris Cohen and company stared at the beer-soaked floor as they squiggled out tiny melodic fragments and slippery half-phrases. The music was tonal, at points even sublime, but unsettling in its subtle bedlam. It took a little while for it to sink in, but all these small and curious shapes were premeditated, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.
Equally fascinating, though, was hearing the crowd's reaction afterward. While the converted excitedly tried to make sense of what they had heard, others were oddly incited, as though a neo-Nazi noise band had just violated them. Most of the acts I had seen in this basement had eschewed convention, almost as the status quo, but few had caused so much debate and head scratching. The Curtains were onto something.
Well, a few years have passed and the Curtains have, in a sense, grown up. While Cohen stepped into a choice position as second guitarist for Deerhoof— though he left that band to focus on the Curtains a few months ago—he's also sired a stylistically scattered grip of the Curtains releases. While each album has seen Cohen's brainchild slide nearer to accessibility, the newest, Calamity, due largely to its heavy dose of sugary sweet vocals, could almost be described as indiepop.
"The Curtains have always been for the general public," says Cohen. "But we didn't realize that singing would connect us more directly. These songs were written with an uncertain purpose. There was no 'Curtains' band at the time, and I just wrote them as a part of my daily routine living in Oakland and riding around on my bike or going for leisurely strolls. Then I had a month with nothing else to do, so I set out to record them."
Even with a new touring four-piece band, including two female singer/guitarists, Nedelle Torrisi and Yasi Perera, Cohen seems relatively unfazed by the twists and turns the project's roll call has taken. "I only want to hear different sounds mingling with each other in infinite variation. This is faster to achieve with a group of different people, but takes tons more organization and communication skills—not to mention the difficulty of finding everyone's aesthetic common ground. And the results of a group are beautiful in that they represent people coming together and being in harmony."