Califone: “All My Friends Are Funeral Singers”

Some promo CDs come with a serious layer of security to prevent piracy and leaks: a special watermark which means the music can be traced back to a specific numbered disc if it finds its way onto the internet. You can often see the point of these heavy manners, especially when an album that may well sell millions arrives early in the Uncut office.

Trending Now

Pete Townshend looks back at The Who in 1967: “I don’t think I was angry”

Smashing guitars, hanging out with Small Faces and keeping Keith Moon onside

Mogwai: Album By Album

Founded in 1995 and initially a trio, Glasgow’s Mogwai made their debut with “Tuner/Lower”, a self-pressed seven-inch in thrall...

Introducing the new issue of Uncut

GETTING YOUR COPY OF THIS MONTH'S UNCUT DELIVERED STRAIGHT TO YOUR DOOR IS EASY AND HASSLE FREE - CLICK...

Introducing the Deluxe Ultimate Music Guide to Bob Marley

In-depths reviews and archive encounters with the reggae legend

Some promo CDs come with a serious layer of security to prevent piracy and leaks: a special watermark which means the music can be traced back to a specific numbered disc if it finds its way onto the internet. You can often see the point of these heavy manners, especially when an album that may well sell millions arrives early in the Uncut office.



At other times, though, the security business can look like a sly promotional stunt: to imbue high importance on a band you wouldn’t normally imagine had enough fans to merit such measures. When the sixth Califone album arrived here last week, notably watermarked, it definitely felt like a case of the latter.

But then again, there’s a useful flipside: to remind us of the value of long-serving bands we can easily take for granted. I wrote something similar about the problems of consistency with regard to Yo La Tengo’s “Popular Songs” a while back, and a lot of the same can apply to Califone.

“All My Friends Are Funeral Singers” serves, though, as a stealthy and powerful reminder of what a fantastic body of work Tim Rutili and his cohorts have accrued through the history of Califone and beyond, back into the days of Red Red Meat. I remember reviewing “Heron King Blues” for Uncut when it came out, and comparing Califone to another more successful band from Chicago, Wilco, who – certainly circa “A Ghost Is Born” – had a not-dissimilar way of balancing arcane folk traditions with a refreshingly forward-thinking experimental approach.

Wilco and Califone’s paths have obviously diverged somewhat since then. But still, by Rutili’s recent standards, “All My Friends…” is a pretty accessible album: listening to something like “Ape-Like”, at once somehow distrait and punchy, there’s a potent link to fractionally gnarlier Red Red Meat material from the mid ‘90s (there’s a good argument, incidentally, that their “Bunny Gets Paid” has been one of the most valuable and predictably neglected reissues of the year).

But anyway, “All My Friends…” purports to be the soundtrack to Rutili’s first feature film, though it works just fine as a discreet bunch of songs in isolation. There’s a little more focus here than on, say, “Heron King Blues” (and a lot more than the “Deceleration” collections), but Califone’s schtick remains more or less constant. As usual, Brian Deck and the band have managed to create a very subtle blend of very crisp, live-sounding, beautifully-captured instrumentation and more processed noise.

Crudely, you can divide what they do into four rough sectors. The opening “Giving Away The Bride” showcases a sort of rusted, clanking almost-funk that’s reminiscent of some latterday Tom Waits. There are brief studio collages like “A Wish Made While Burning Onions Will Come True”. Then the rickety and battered folk songs, for instance “Buñuel”, that update traditional forms in an oblique yet fervid way.

Finally, and to my mind best of all, there are the sombre, elegant progressions like “Krill”, “Evidence”, nailed onto a resonant piano line, and the outstanding and insidious “Funeral Singers” itself, much in the style of the last album’s “Black Metal Valentine” and as good a song as Califone have ever recorded. It’s all a lot more complicated than that, of course – not least when you factor in the Gil Evans horns on “Alice Marble Gray” or the vague gamelan which ushers in the old weird American hoedown of “Salt”.

Advertisement

Latest Issue

The Who, New York Dolls, Fugazi, Peggy Seeger, Scritti Politti, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Serge Gainsbourg, Israel Nash and Valerie June
Advertisement

Features

Advertisement