DON CABALLERO "Punkgasm" Relapse PONYTAIL "Ice Cream Spiritual!" We Are Free

Friday, August 15, 2008

DON CABALLERO"Punkgasm"RelapsePONYTAIL"Ice Cream Spiritual!"We Are Free

A NATURAL DOUBLE BILL, Don Caballero and Ponytail play brawny art-rock that stresses tricky changes rather than lyrics and singing. Yet the two groups don't sound much like each other. Although hardly a jam band, Ponytail is looser and wilder, whereas Don Caballero achieves machine-like precision.

Founded in 1991 and in flux ever since, Don Caballero includes only one original member, drummer Damon Che. His rigorous playing is upfront on the Pittsburgh-rooted trio's new album, "Punkgasm," but it's no more prominent than Eugene Doyle's guitar or Jason Jouver's bass. The three of them shift from metallic assault to baroque interplay to primal thump, and the transitions never seem forced. Five of the CD's 14 tracks are full-blown songs, with vocals that can be surprisingly pretty. But the conversation is intense even when only the instruments chatter, as the opening track demonstrates. Building from minimalist rippling to hard-rock sprint, "Loudest Shop Vac in the World" is a nine-minute tour of the band's formidable range.

Equally indifferent to conventional song structure, Ponytail features a full-time vocalist but has few words for her to sing. Mostly, Molly Siegel yelps and coos along with the agile guitars and drums, as if warbling childlike counterpoint to her bedroom stereo. On the Baltimore quartet's exhilarating second album, "Ice Cream Spiritual!," the guitars sometimes chime as fastidiously as Don Caballero's but more often paint large swathes of sound. Such tracks as "Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From an Angel)" have a headlong abandon that never degenerates into sloppiness. Playful, sprawling and simply odd as Ponytail's music is, it's always carefully constructed.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Tuesday at Iota (703-522-8340,http://www.iotaclubandcafe.http://http://com). Show starts at 8:30 p.m.

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