Given indie rock’s need to scream, its reliance on simplicity and accessibility, its proponents’ burning itch to express personalities, perambulate through obsessions and point fingers at various targets, instrumental music has rarely been the sound choice of the new generation. Outside the sphere of surf-rock nostalgists and space-rock prog noisemakers, the census of groups who make music that could support lyrics but choose not is growing but small. But it does include this Pittsburgh quartet named after Guy Caballero, the sleazy station owner Joe Flaherty played on SCTV.
Formed in ’91 and artistically aligned with the rugged guitar aggression of bands like the Jesus Lizard, Helmet and Fugazi, but capable of great delicacy and restraint, Don Caballero — guitarists Ian Williams and Mike Banfield, drummer Damon Che (Fitzgerald, also the guitarist in The(e) Speaking Canaries) and a series of bassists — use ingenuity, muscle and a precise sense of rhythmic possibilities to easily sustain excitement for all 38 nearly wordless minutes of For Respect, a bracing record produced — although you couldn’t possibly know this from a visual inspection of the CD — by Steve Albini. Dynamic, driving, distorted and entirely free of indulgent improvisation, the eleven tracks — from the Melvins-like title cut to the ambling spareness of “Subdued Confections” and the frenzied vectors of “Belted Sweater” — underscore the value of talent in producing rugged instrumental music that’s really saying something.
With a new bassist, a different producer (Al Sutton) and clearly expanded ambitions (four of the eight songs on the double album/single CD are around ten minutes long), Don Caballero cranked itself nearly off the meter; the second album is harsher, more chromatically and texturally challenging. Still tightly structured (“Repeat Defender” reveals serious King Crimson tendencies) but more open to daring discordance, sonic experimentation and meltdown cacophony, Don Caballero 2 rewrites the book with enthusiastic determination. A good portion of “please tokio, please THIS IS TOKIO” is given over to a grinding, unyielding drone accented by what sounds like a power tool planing the guitar strings; “Dick Suffers Is Furious With You” builds on repetitive, honking animal imitations. But Don Caballero hasn’t completely sacrificed its softer side to the gods of skronk, and the meditative “Cold Knees (in April)” suggests the sound of several thumb pianos, arranged by Philip Glass and fingered by Einstürzende Neubauten.