Van the Van
Road to Kyogle
n September of 2005, New Zealand’s Antony Milton skipped across the Tasman Sea for a van tour of Australia with Majik of the Music Your Mind Will Love You collective. Rather than offer up a live CD, the parties in question instead decided to commemorate the trip itself. Locked up in a moving box on the highway from Sydney to Kyogle, the group turned to music, producing hours of tape whittled down to a taut forty-minute album. These ten tracks find Van the Van curtailing the long-form tendencies of their constituent parts in favor of brisk, brittle investigations of ghostly space rock and commune folk. Whatever the reason (piss breaks or driver changes), Van the Van benefits greatly from the brevity of its offerings, making Road to Kyogle—surprisingly enough—among the most accessible albums in both the Milton and MWMWLY catalog.
When conducting my rudimentary research for this album, I stumbled across a travel journal of a man pedaling a recumbent tricycle from Sydney to Kyogle. Beneath his food hints, anti-hill moans, and natural commentary, one can sense the man’s devotion to passage, its hidden rhythms and hypnotic qualities. After enough time on the road, watching the scenery stroll by a breezy clip, the traveler becomes a traveler, a timeless vagabond bound only to movement, temporarily beyond the confines of family, responsibility, and by extension, death. A rootless life, after all, cannot be uprooted. The clear mind created by traveling presents amazing creative possibilities, which Van the Van has seized upon.
From the blues and raga chords spiderwebbing the curious croaking of “Marrakesh,” Van the Van dedicates itself to movement in music as well as body. Each track offers a clear transition from the prior and a logical jumping off point for the explorations of the next. Following “Marrakesh,” “Highway Passin” finds the blues ensnarled in feedback scree and serenaded by throat singers. “What Is This” briefly escapes the bullet pace of the road, creating an ambient space for creaky near-percussion to fill. “Plain” then retreats from serious music-making, offering a charming personal glimpse into the van, with wind roar and road-weary conversation intact. “Wooah!” rescues the errant guitar line drifting through “Plain” and settles it within a somber, echo-chamber drumming.
Following a series of quirky vignettes in which stoned banter acts as a pleasant textural backdrop, Van the Van delivers their only extended piece—“Bagel Jazz?” The track reaches the ten-minute mark by starting slow. With nothing more than hiss, occasional dropped guitar notes and a meandering recorder, Van the Van conjures a chirping primeval forest, populated with rustling critters and a bird whose calls lapse in and out of hearing range, sounding both thin and oddly heavy. It’s a serene, accomplished sound, reminiscent of the quieter moments of Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood and Milton’s Nether Dawn project. However, the band was still wise to include only one long piece. As it is, Road to Kyogle serves up eight tantalizing appetizers, one meaty entrée, and a refreshing dessert.