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Don Caballero

Touch and Go

When Don Caballero’s debut full-length, For Respect, dropped in 1993, it was something of an anomaly—metallic post-punk sans vocals. In those pre-Tortoise- and pre-Godspeed days, purely instrumental rock was primarily associated with old-school surf guitarists such as Dick Dale—which meant that Don Cab’s disc initially scanned like a Tar record with something missing. Further listens revealed that drummer Damon Che more than filled the quartet’s vocal void, leading the band with Herculean polyrhythms reminiscent of Elvin Jones’ work in the John Coltrane Quartet. Like mathematical soulmates Breadwinner, Don Cab deleted the most unpunk elements of heavy metal—overwrought vocals and masturbatory guitar solos—leaving nothing but tight, noise-drenched riff rock. Don Cab’s next album, Don Caballero II , played up the band’s mechanistic tendencies in a series of long prog-rock labyrinths, whereas its third full-length, What Burns Never Returns, got positively impressionistic, with Mike Banfield and Ian Williams’ smeary guitar lines somehow reconciling metal and free jazz. In the two years following What Burns, the band lost both Banfield and bassist Pat Morris but decided to persevere as a trio with new bassist Erich Ehm, who also plays with Williams in Storm & Stress. Which makes the Don Caballero moniker gracing the new American Don feel almost like false advertising. Don Cab’s new sound bears little resemblance to the overdriven hard rock of yore; it’s more like pristine post-post-punk. In an attempt to make up for the lack of a second guitarist, Williams now creates layers of Steve Reich-style loops through real-time digital sampling. And Che no longer dominates the band’s sound with his drumming; on American Don, he assumes a more traditional time-keeping role, providing an uncharacteristically straightforward background for Williams’ squiggly guitar figures. The result is very pretty sonic wallpaper, but, in the context of Don Cab’s history, it feels like a step backward. —Brent Burton