Celebrating the Breakdown

After recording their second album for Touch and Go in 1994, Pittsburgh math rockers Don Caballero decided to lay low for a while–a hiatus that stretched into a two-year sabbatical. Drummer Damon Che used the time to focus on playing guitar with The(e) Speaking Canaries, and guitarist Ian Williams, who’d been impressed by the style of a drummer named Kevin Shea (who sometimes sounds as if both he and the kit are tumbling down a flight of stairs), invited Shea to start another group: Storm and Stress, whose second album, Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light (also on Touch and Go), was released last month. Che’s Van Halen-esque side project clearly built on Don Cab’s proggish power; Storm and Stress tore it down.

The group’s eponymously titled 1996 debut “was a reaction to the tightly scripted Caballero stuff,” says Williams, who moved to Chicago in ’98, followed by both Che and Storm and Stress bassist Erich Emm. (Shea’s now in school at NYU.) “Don Caballero came out of late-80s Chicago, with its fascination with the machine, where all the parts go together. Storm and Stress was a leap into whatever the opposite of that was. It was sort of a celebration of the breakdown.” Shea’s kinetic drumming, Emm’s knotty bass lines, and Williams’s choppy bursts and jagged phrases combined uneasily for a sound whose only obvious connection to Don Cab was the sheer din. Yet although the debut at times sounded like an indie rock band trying a clumsy hand at free improvisation, Williams says the songs were just as carefully mapped out as any Don Cab tune. “There’s sort of a studied attempt at hiding intention, where a lot of things don’t sound purposeful,” he explains.

The trio gets a much better handle on this approach on Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light. Williams rarely hits the volume pedal while inventing the peculiar phrases that distinguish each song. He prods every three- or four-note lick from every possible angle, altering the accents and flipping the order of the notes for textures with the subtle variation of Persian rug patterns. Emm’s playing is softer and more empathetic–he’s no longer poking sticks between Williams’s spokes. And Shea’s itchy drumming flows organically even as he fights fixed rhythm. Melodies occasionally bubble up, but the fractured guitar and perpetual percussion changes break them to bits as soon as they surface; sometimes it’s like listening to a pop song via a bad Internet connection.

While influences like Gastr del Sol and U.S. Maple are apparent, on the new record Storm and Stress has begun to carve out its own niche–which unfortunately includes especially ponderous song titles like “An Address That Was to Skip Ahead of the Gallop of Its Own Sperm and Eggs and Wait for Itself in the Future: Letter to 2096” and some mumbly quasi-poetic vocals. But the words make up only “like, 3 percent” of the music, as Williams points out, so there’s no need to let them stand in the way of the fascinating things the group says nonverbally.

Storm and Stress celebrates the release of Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light on Friday at the Empty Bottle; Kevin Drumm and Jeremy Boyle open.


One of the most exciting cross-genre presentations during the World Music Festival in September was the pairing of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer with Indian percussionist Trichy Sankaran: though the melodic and harmonic basis of their music was decidedly jazz, Sankaran’s cyclical rhythms gave it a more malleable groove than a trap kit could’ve, and at times the saxophone suggested the ecstatic violin of Indian classical tradition. The gig was such a success that the three have continued working together as the Manodharma Trio; they’ll give a free concert Wednesday at 7 PM in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall.

The staff of Ruido, the four-hour rock-en-espa–ol show on Loyola University’s WLUW (88.7), has decided to broaden its audience by doing one hour of the program in English; for the other three hours, the background and commentary will remain in Spanish. Ruido airs every Wednesday at 10 PM and features popular and critically acclaimed artists from both Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, including Gustavo Cerati, Cafe Tacuba, Otto, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Chico Science, Control Machete, and Illya Kuryaki.

Magnetic Curses, a new cheapo compilation from the local Thick label, showcases a range of contemporary Chicago punk, including Deals Gone Bad’s skittering ska, the Tossers’ jacked-up jigs, the Gaza Strippers’ raging choogle, the Nerves’ spastic garage spuzz, Bitchy’s old-school hardcore, and the Alkaline Trio’s wag-along pop, among others. Of the 26 tracks, 20 are previously unreleased. Half of the artists featured on the disc (see listings for details) will perform at a record-release party Saturday at Metro. The $10 admission includes a free copy of the CD, which lists for $5.98.

Motorhome bassist Kristen Thiele is getting hitched and moving to Miami, and singer-guitarist Josiah Mazzaschi is working on a new project called Light FM. But if you’re reading this on Thursday, February 24, you can catch the loud-pop faves’ farewell gig–with original drummer Laura Masura, currently of the Prescriptions–tonight at Double Door.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Gabinsky.