Well then. So starts Don Caballero’s latest album, World Class Listening Problem. When I first heard of the term “math rock,” I was instantly intrigued. It sounded so…elitist and underground I had to check it out. Later I found out it only meant there was frequent time signature changes, which as a musician I can respect, but it’s nothing that spectacular. Then I heard the music of Don Caballero, the off rhythms, and the heavy feel, and I had to get their CD. World Class Listening Problem is Don Caballero’s first album in six years. In fact, the album is basically drummer extraordinaire Damon Che and an entirely new lineup of guitarists with Eugene Doyle and Jeffery Ellsworth on guitar and Jason Jouver on bass. The opening phrase seems to connote “Well then, show us who you are now.” This is a moment of truth for Damon Che, and his new band. I haven’t heard enough older Don Caballero to tell if this new lineup is true to the Don’s sound, but it sounds fine to me.
Of course, the first thing to stand out for me was Damon Che’s drumming. He is by far the best drummer I’ve ever listened to. Perhaps there are better, I don’t really care (yes I do, but work with me here). His fills are brilliant, his rhythm impeccable. Yet he rarely tries to take the center stage. He does a few drum rolls in “I agree…No!...I disagree,” but everything fits the song, and enhances it.
I can understand why Don Caballero isn’t exactly popular. Aside from no vocals (tracks like “Palm trees in the fecking Bahamas” feels like it could use some), something about the band sounds unconventional and off. This is partially because of the changes in time signatures, which give the songs a unique feel. For Don Caballero, it’s all about the musicality. The songs don’t exactly have a unified feel, again thanks to the time changes. They are like different movements. For example, the first song “mmmmm acting, I love me some good acting,” it starts with heavy, and awesome metal riffs, with an eerie guitar hook. Yet as it nears the end, the song gets ethereal, almost ambient, with a synthesizer or something. They sound like two completely different, quality songs.
For the most part, the movements work. However, sometimes the movements are a little short lived, or a little too radical. Like the intoxicating rolling riff in the middle of “Sure we had knives around” that only lasts for a couple moments. It rocked so hard, I wish they could’ve explored it more.
The musicianship on this CD is undeniable. Aside from Damon, the guitarists make some nice riffs. The interplay between the guitars and the bass in “Railroad cancellation” really sets the mood for a laid-back (as laid-back as Don Caballero gets), amazing song. It has a U2 feel to it, minus Bono, plus better musicians. The bass line in “I agree…No!...I disagree” is great. It doesn’t really fit with the drums in the intro, they’re both doing their own thing, but it works. For the remainder of the song, it thumps along and grounds the song as the guitars do some rather weird stuff.
Some of the weirder, more obnoxious songs are “I’m goofballs for bozzo jazz” and “Theme for bricktop clowns.” They incorporate the same odd, technical guitar work, but in these songs the guitars get annoying. Maybe the guitar sounds a little too much like an alarm clock in “I’m goofballs for bozzo jazz.” But I don’t really like the songs.
For Don Caballero, it’s all about the music. Not even the songs, they’re just out to do something interesting with the music. At times it’s a little pretentious, at times a little wearing, okay it can get boring. But for the most part it is a treat. There are the powerful riffs, the waves of incredible drumming, and an overall feeling of rock. It’s not Zeppelin’s rock, or maybe it is, but it’s something different regardless. And I like it.