It’s prog rock. But there’s so much more here that you won’t find in typical prog circles: a rollicking sense of humor, a heavy dose of real jazz (garbled, knotted free jazz, NOT the occasional major-7th chord that rock reviewers call “jazz”), and amusing spoken-word segments like futuristic (yet old-world) radio announcements. The album opens with one of the latter, congratulating you for the ownership of “a miRthkon vehicle.”
Even in the slower songs, changes come at a fast, fluid rate; you glimpse musical moments just in time to realize the band’s moved on, like a subway car streaming past. The fast songs are impossibly packed with ideas, from hard-edged guitars in complex lead parts to jazzy squiggles from the sax and bass clarinet, as on “Flashbulb of Orgasm.”
The guitar work is exquisite, but the horns really flesh out the band for me, either by adding unison lines to color the sound, or in the solos and extra flutter/fill-ins they provide. The easygoing but quick-footed “Bappsciliophuaega” presents a little of both, while a stretch near the end of “Johnny Yen” uses the horns for a cool end-of-song babble.
I love the way they’ve recorded the album (it’s mixed by Dan Rathbun of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). Interludes like the strange insect buzzing at the end of “Trishna” or the alley-cat mewling after “Zhagunk” make for nice palate cleansers as well as interesting headphone trips. It’s like the whole album is telling you a story — something I miss in this shuffle-play MP3 world.
The two songs with lyrics are particularly fun. “Banana” is goofy, but “Honey Key Jamboree” takes the cake: It’s jumping, jazzy, and full of silly backing vocals.
“Camelopardalis” is the longest track, at nine minutes, full of free-jazz babble and impossibly thick, rapid-fire bass lines. Wait — a prog album without any songs longer than 10 minutes? Sure, and it’s no concession to pop. Vehicle is so densely packed, even three minutes feels like a novel’s worth of material.