Don Caballero is not a progressive rock band in the common sense of the word. There are no Moog solos, Roger Dean album covers or concept albums anywhere in their catalog. Yet with each album Don Caballero seem to be veering closer to truly progressive music -- music which steers completely clear of the retro tendencies and clichés so prevalent in new "progressive rock." Music which simply expands the previous boundaries of rock music. In that sense, Don Caballero is a progressive rock band.
This Pittsburgh band's long overdue third album takes their unique brand of ultra-complicated guitar-based indie rock to levels that even the most discriminating prog fan should enjoy. The most notable progressive rock connection may be found in elements of King Crimson's influence in the dissonant guitar chords, choppy rhythms and odd meters, and in the interlocking, almost pointilistic dual guitar melodies.
This album finds Don Caballero well on their way in evolving from an all-instrumental band that barely tried to hide their affinity for heavy metal riffs on their debut album, For Respect to an almost avant-garde guitar ensemble several years later. Most of the metal riffs are gone and we are now left with some very challenging instrumental music, which nearly defies description. Now, riffs, melodies and sometimes nothing more than abrasive guitar noise arise, transform and drop out of sight without warning. This is not instrumental Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins. Nor is this prog metal shredding wankery. There are no solos and there is no posing. This is four guys stretching the boundaries of guitar rock to unusually left-field territory. If anyone in the band does shred, however, it's drummer Damon Che. He plays with a relentless fury and energy which would leave most drummers breathless after 20 minutes. If Don Caballero has a star player, it's him, and his drumming alone is worth the price of admission.
Most of the oddly titled instrumental tracks on this album are in the five-minute range, but a couple approach 10 minutes and allow quite a bit of room for music ideas to develop fully. My favorite track on this album is "In the Absence of Strong Evidence to the Contrary, One May Step Out of the Way of the Charging Bull." Both guitarists play almost all of this piece by finger tapping chords and notes in a manner not unlike a stick player would. I saw these guys in concert recently and was amazed when I saw them do this. I found it hard to distinguish one part from another and wondered how guitarists Mike Banfield and Ian Williams managed to stay in time with each other while playing such an intricate swirl of rhythmic parts. This is something the band ought to explore further.
The one complaint about this band that I have heard before and must confess myself is that they do tend to be a little repetitive at times. Themes and melodies appear only once per track as a rule, but sometimes these themes can go on a little too long before the band drops them and moves on. This is only a minor distraction, however.
While I do not like this album as much as their fantastic second album, Don Caballero 2, I do think it is this album which could ultimately be responsible for turning the heads of progressive and avant-garde music enthusiasts in Don Caballero's direction.