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Record Review

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If you've never seen instrumental trio Drums & Tuba before, don't let the name mislead you. Oh, there's tuba. Lots of tuba. There's drums, too. But topping one of the most skewed, elastic rhythm sections in "rock" are guitar(s), sundry other instruments and studio manipulation that would make any Chicago avant gardist proud.

Maybe because Drums & Tuba are grounded in less artsy genres -- Dixieland, polka and, well, high school marching bands -- and because they have so much fun they aren't served with the heaping praise "serious artists" such as Tortoise get. But Drums & Tuba exhibit virtuosity of the highest order. They've got the same tendency to give their compositions ridiculous names (a common instrumental response to the lack of narrative), but they take their music very seriously. Live, D&T use racks of digital effects to play over layers of loops, recreating seeming impossible multitracks with ease.

Drums & Tuba's newest album, the aptly named Vinyl Killer, is even more washed with the studio, transforming their single guitar, drum trap and tuba into resounding waves of time-signature hopping texture that never favors baritone over well-honed bias. They've replaced much of their early upfront oom-pah and settled into the kind of plump groove that befits both a hot New Orleans afternoon and a dreary, wintry Chicago evening, but with a Middle Eastern tinge.

Drums & Tuba could succeed on novelty alone -- playing the same old three-piece rock with a tuba instead of bass. But they instead choose to challenge perceptions of traditional instrumentation. The result is a great album and innovative live show. But damn, they'd make one hell of a cover band. -- TONY WARE

Drums & Tuba play the Tabernacle, Fri., Feb. 23.

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