Pigment Vehicle are unfortunately one of those bands whose mark has corroded with time. Due to its size, the annals of math rock are almost entirely restricted to the internet, and unfortunately the Canadian math rock quartet disbanded long before the digital age, and too small for a cult of dedicated fans to revive them. Nowadays, they are reduced to message boards and the odd Youtube video. By and large, there is not that much out there in internet land to help us. So what do we have on this band, apart from a foggy legend?
With a hard enough search, one can start to paint a picture of the band that time forgot. Formed in 1988 in Sidney, British Columbia, the band followed in the footsteps of Canadian greats Nomeansno, combining elements of punk rock, jazz and prog. Their 1988 cassette demo Hockey Night in Saskatoon is rich in angular chord progressions that are conceptually wild, often echoing bands like Yowie and U.S Maple. Tracks like ‘Kitty‘ begin slowly and methodically, but unfurl into a whirlwind of distorted guitar and off-kilter percussion. In fact, it is hard not to hear vibes of Drugs To The Dear Youth and Patagonian Rats-era Tera Melos. The only difference being Pigment Vehicle was punching out their tunes twenty years prior.
Tracks from early 90’s albums like Let The Squids Fly Free and Perfect Cop Mustache are off-the-wall, to say the least, but they are nothing the modern math rocker is not accustomed to. With their disjunctive riffs and metrical complexity, Pigment Vehicle was bringing the spirit of King Crimson, Egg and ELP back into Canada. They took punk rock away from its raw, minimalistic formula, and added unpredictability, disarray and, above all, imagination. The 1996 release Independent Women Are So Damned Good is perhaps ‘Pigment Vehicle Lite’, as the band shifted away from the more madcap styling of their previous records, to include more upbeat and groovy sensibilities. Their final album, Murder’s Only Foreplay When You’re Hot For Revenge, is perhaps the happy medium between both sides of Pigment Vehicle, with tracks like ‘Sleep‘ bringing together the mercurial jazz components into coherent punk rock songs.
You may not have heard of them, but Pigment Vehicle are one of the unsung heroes of math rock. They walked the groundwork paved by Nomeansno, exercising the critical link between progressive rock and punk rock, before the Slint and Bitch Magnet boys were getting their shit together down in mid-western U.S.A. If you’re looking for some of the earliest forms of math rock, you’ve arrived at the right, albeit desolate, place.