Pittsburgh instrumental trio Don Caballero have been around since the early '90s, when the term "math rock" came to describe the kind of blues-free, proggy, King Crimsonic, heavy-non-metal sounds that a handful of bands (usually with a single degree of separation from Steve Albini) pursued. It was basically music made by white guys with lots of time on their hands for an audience of likeminded nerds. I latched onto this style but only ever found a handful of bands and LPs to pick up at the time. The style never died out, though, and with bands like Botch (RIP), The Wayward, and Dysrythmia steering the style towards hardcore, all-out prog, metal and/or jazz fusion, the time is right for Don Caballero to jump back into the fray with a new lineup and new album—their fifth full-length and first for Relapse.
I’d describe Don Cab’s current sound as “tense.” The instruments come together, diverge, and come together again, building often complex songs out of unison and dischord. As always, founding member Damon Che’s drums are the lead instrument. His style is massive and commanding—rolling and roiling over, under and all around whatever the rest of the band is playing. The guitars on the opening track, “mmmmm acting, I love me some good acting,” alternately squall and thud along with the rhythm section. The song also makes space for a percussion breakdown, then tightly wound sections in 5 and 3, before laying out for a loosely structured ending with layers of looped guitars. “Sure we had knives around” uses more guitar looping without become repetitive, rapidly moving from section to section during its five minutes. “And and and, he lowered the twin down” rocks hard & skronky for its entire length, as does the title track. At times the band takes a more melodic, conventionally structured turn, as on the sunny, rollicking “Palm trees in the fecking Bahamas” and “Railroad cancellation,” an easygoing tune that benefits from not being in a hurry to go anywhere. While the overall feel of the music is tense, there are a few relaxing stretches along the way. With a guitarist who manages to sound like two, a drummer who plays like three, and a bassist who wisely stays out of the way and finds his own space to work in, Don Caballero are sounding really good at the moment, and World Class Listening Problem is a powerful comeback album.