Brookland Music/Dischord For a band that rarely ventures beyond the Capital Beltway, the instrumental ensemble Tone has an uncanny ability to summon the wide-open spaces of the American Southwest. That can be credited partly to leader Norm Veenstra's love of '80s sonic boomers such as Savage Republic and Nice Strong Arm, but it's his other great influence, the guitar orchestras of New York avant-garde composers Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca, that gives Tone the muscle to suggest not just the desert's beauty, but its menace as well.
As with the group's three previous albums, "Ambient Metals" finds Veenstra (who is the business manager of the 9:30 club) drawing collaborators from across the Washington music scene to fill Tone's unusual four-guitar, two-drum set, one-bassist lineup -- guitarists Geordie Grindle and Steve Willett played in the Teen Idles and Strange Boutique, respectively. But individuals aren't the point of Tone -- the almighty sound of the guitar is. Tone works less as a traditional rock band than a carefully conducted ensemble. On rangy numbers such as "Alhambra," each guitar part is meticulously played with as little flash as possible. The effect is less sterile than it might seem, as when the guitarists' precision and the propulsive percussion combine on songs like "Timebox" and the uncredited last track to give the illusion of barreling through the desert night. Tone know that to do so successfully, you need to be riding in a well-tuned machine.
-- Andrew Beaujon
Appearing Friday at the 9:30 club with Mission of Burma and Oxes. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Tone, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8134. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)