Sensory overload: There’s a method to Domes’ madness

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From the July 31, 2014 edition

In the midst of Domes’ short, 35-minute set at Ace of Cups on a recent Wednesday, nasally singer/guitarist Ben Ahlteen growled, “Things won’t be the same again.” While he appeared to be singing about a relationship coming indelicately unglued (or perhaps a mind, seeing as the tune’s creeping guitar riff suggested encroaching madness), he could just as easily have been singing about the trio’s shape-shifting, psych-rock sound, which swung from sluggish, blues-spiked passages to chaotic sections that careened along as recklessly as a Sandra Bullock-driven bus.

Ahlteen, who’s joined in the group by drummer Chris Cheeseman and bassist Ian Mclain, introduced another song by saying, “This one’s about your DNA.” Appropriately, the crew kicked off construction with the most elemental blocks, layering together snippets of pre-recorded vocals, shuffling drums and low-burning guitar that emitted the heat of fast-cooling coals. As the tune reached its midpoint, however, it evolved from a collection of single-celled organisms into a rampaging beast, Ahlteen tapping out frenetic riffs that scratched, mewed and clawed.

The performance doubled as a rain makeup of sorts, with the musicians bashing through the set they intended to play during a weather-canceled Saturday performance at this year’s ComFest. Unsurprisingly, the Ace of Cups setting felt more conducive to the group’s tripped-out sound.

There were times the trio’s output conjured the majesty of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” guitars twinkling like nearby stars as everything drifted along untethered by gravity. Other times, the trio struggled to lift itself out of bed. “Living my life in my bedroom,” shrugged Ahlteen on one tune as the music lumbered along, its loping, bluesy shuffle mirroring the frontman’s dazed state.

Occasionally, all of these elements surfaced in the same track, the trio taking a blender to its sound and veering from a punk scrawl to psychedelic-garage blasts to a motorik groove in a matter of minutes, like Robin Williams breathlessly racing through a series of impressions. It’s to Domes’ credit the breakneck pacing actually worked, and the musicians appeared to be in complete control of their surroundings even in those moments when everything appeared as though it might come deliriously apart.