Califone front man Tim Rutili and percussionist Ben Massarella cut their teeth in mid-90s alt-blues outcasts Red Red Meat. That band’s progression into industrial percussion and noise yielded Califone, with Rutili and Massarella still comprising the creative core. Califone’s Roomsound, its exposure catapulted by an unlikely sales push on Amazon.com, was full of throbbing, dirty Americana. A subsequent collection of EP’s further showcased the band’s skillful synthesis of noise and song craft.
Despite earlier successes, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes is the first time the band sounds fully in control of their art. Massarella’s percussive aggression has taken a backseat to Rutili’s increasing songwriting skill: Rusty guitar strumming lays the foundation for Rutili’s expressive voice, as he draws potent surrealist imagery out of his earthy intonations. The combination evokes an old-world aesthetic, albeit one filled with buzzing frets, crossed eyes and “egg white fire.”
Some songs, like the brief “Million Dollar Funeral,” draw clearly from America’s past, building off of nothing more than a fiddle and a guitar. Others, like “Vampiring Again” is a smooth fusion of pop hooks and traditional instruments. The nostalgic breeze of “Michigan Girls” and the slow, beautiful climb of “Horoscopic.Amputation.Honey” are the most compelling, realized pieces the band has ever produced, effectively mixing their roots-pop with a beautiful wash of static and feedback. It’s a testament to the band’s talent that they are as passionate and studious about music’s history as its future.
Rating: 4 Stars