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Don Caballero - "Punkgasm" (CD)

Don Caballero - "Punkgasm" CD cover image

"Punkgasm" track listing:

01. Loudest Shop Vac In The World
02. The Irrespective Dick Area
03. Bulkeye
04. Shit Kids Galore
05. Celestial Dusty Groove
06. Pour You Into The Rug
07. Challenge Jets
08. Lord Krepelka
09. Why Is The Couch Always Wet?
10. Slaughbaugh's Ought Not Own Dog Data
11. Dirty Looks
12. Who's A Puppy Cat
13. Awe Man That's Jive Skip
14. Punkgasm

Reviewed by on September 4, 2008

"It's the sound of Don Cab escaping from their formula, right before it hardens around them."

For a band so experienced, Don Caballero has a lot to prove. "Punkgasm" is the sixth album from this Pittsburgh instrumental math metal trio. They used to be a quartet, but that's part of the point. After their fourth and best album, 2000's classic "American Don," they underwent a six year hiatus before drummer Damon Che reformed the band with a new guitarist and bassist.

Their next effort, "World Class Listening Problem," showed that the rookie members could imitate their predecessors perfectly. It felt like a nostalgic trip through the back catalogue, but the original lineup boasted one of the most creative and unique sounds in the history of heavy music. "Punkgasm," the new lineup's second album, puts Don Caballero in a tough situation. They need to prove they can update their legacy.

For almost twenty minutes, Don Cab pulls from the classic bag of tricks. The guitar parts are still skittery and scything, with moments of overpowering distorted sludge. Using delay effects and polyrhythmic finger-picking patterns, guitarist Eugene Doyle frequently pretends that he's two or three guitars at once. Jason Jouver provides trademark Don Caballero bass lines: melodic, flurrying and dense, like a jazz fusion bass carved out of slippery stone. And Damon Che's drumming can still annihilate every comer. His unpredictable, energetic, intricate grooves are enough to prove he stands with the greatest rock and jazz drummers of all time.

Opening track "Loudest Shop Vac In The World" is an epic nine minute suite that combines all these elements to rumbling, ass kicking effect. "The Irrespective Dick Area" comes next; at ninety-one seconds, it resembles an ultra-compact take on Don Cab's nineties style. It's abstract, but furiously urgent and heavy. It might make you want to dance, or else just have a quick seizure.

By the third track, "Bulkeye," things start to hit a rut. It recalls the first two tracks, which in turn recall other Don Caballero albums. Though a killer composition, it's little more than an homage to past days. The track that follows, "Shit Kids Galore," does nothing for the listener's confidence. It's nothing but a short, off kilter drum solo with less flair than the average Don Cab drum line. A joke on the listener, maybe.

"Celestial Dusty Groove" immediately shows why drum solos are redundant on an album like this. Damon Che clears the floor with a monolithic floor-tom pulse, but the vocals that follow are the real twist. They're high and completely clean, almost ethereal, providing a great foil for the menacing intensity of the instruments. It's the sound of Don Cab escaping from their formula, right before it hardens around them.

"Pour You Into The Rug," the following track, works great for similar reasons. It's a slowly unfolding dirge with ridiculously complicated shimmers of drumming, but opens up with twenty seconds of surreal, unaccompanied singing. Here and elsewhere, the band seems energized and challenged by everything that their new approach offers.

The rest of the album fluctuates between the old and the new with heavy instrumental grooves between mellower voice-led songs. Of the former, "Lord Krepelka" stands out as a galloping track that could have fallen from their classic LP "What Burns Never Returns." It demonstrates the new Don Cab is still the world's best Don Cab cover band.

"Why Is The Couch Always Wet?" makes a perfect contrast. It's bizarrely calm and gentle. The vocals provide a layered, drony effect, and the crystalline guitar parts even seem simple until you listen close. Don Caballero are still complexity junkies, but they're actually streamlining their sound here. What's next, they'll stop showing off completely, and just write a song?

Crazily, that's what they do. The album closes out with "Punkgasm," a blissful anthem of two chord punk, complete with "Hip, hip, hip!" choruses. It's incredibly tight and edgy, sort of like Wire or Mission Of Burma, and as perfect as it is unexpected. Prog diehards are going to cry.

After all the drama, Don Caballero finally seem like they've stepped out of their old shadow. "Punkgasm" proves they can still channel the chaos, but it also signifies a deepening of their technique. It isn't quite a stone cold classic like their nineties albums, but the new lineup might follow this one with a masterpiece.

Highs: Their new looseness and sense of fun somehow blend perfectly with their trademark precision.

Lows: Some of the songs don't offer anything new, and a few are half-baked fragments.

Bottom line: Don Caballero's stretching its muscles here, figuring out what the new lineup might offer.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)