Formed from the ashes of bluesy experimentalists Red Red Meat, Califone’s earliest incarnation saw singer Tim Rutili knocking out ditties on an Apple Mac. After a couple of self-titled EPs, their first full-lengther?2001’s Roomsound?was built around the sequenced beats, found sounds and fuggy rock dynamic of Rutili, Ben Massarella and Brian Deck, along with a revolving door of like-minded cohorts from Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day and Fruitbats.
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, again recorded at their own Clava Studios, raises further the tension between Roomsound’s old-time American folk and high-tech sleight of hand. At the heart of Califone’s sound is Massarella’s wildly inventive percussion, teasing improvised studio tics, hisses of static and arcane blips of noise into slowly rolling rhythms. Amid the weird loops and bowed bass thrumming like giant elastic bands, Rutili’s voice sounds dredged from the same rustic creek as Will Oldham. There are brushes with conventionality (a deep-bottomed swamp riff on the Delta bluesy “Mean Little Seed”; the strange back-porch mutation of “Stepdaughter”), but even these are thrillingly opaque. There’s plenty of beauty, too. The transfixing acoustic throb of “(Red)” and “Michigan Girls”, for instance, or the way “Horoscopic.Amputation. Honey” twists pinpricks of noise into lovely patterns.
The addition of multi-instrumentalist and walking country-folk oracle Jim Becker on mandolin, banjo and fiddle adds authenticity, particularly on the rakish “Million Dollar Funeral”. Good luck decoding Rutili’s elliptical imagery (“Early minor Japanese pitcher sidearm slow tic/A wolfish mouth/On a mouse-ish face lady from Shanghai third man/Shot wild in the house of mirrors” is one of the clearer passages), but hell, just sit back and admire titles like “When Leon Spinks Moved Into Town” and “Your Golden Ass”. This is one glorious murk.