Named after an audio equipment manufacturer, Chicago quartet Califone trade in mostly acoustic, alt. country and folky tunes. Not that you’d ascertain that from -Giving Away The Bride’, their opening salvo on this, their second long-player: it’s all staccato percussion, groaning samples and ethereal vocals. It’s experimental and exciting, like a lo-fi Beck out-take crossed with Nirvana’s quieter moments, but as a taster for the album that follows, it’s something of a non sequitur.
Califone aren’t afraid to experiment with odd sounds and timings, but they’re also well versed in traditional songcraft as well. All My Friends… veers from almost reverentially old-fashioned folksy laments (-Salt’, -Better Angels’) to ultra-modern American indie rock, calling to mind everyone from Decemberists to Eels in the process.
Indeed, vocalist Tim Rutili comes across not unlike Eels’ frontman, E, particularly on the eerie -Alice Marble Gray’ or the superb -Polish Girls’, the latter where the song’s basic acoustic roots do battle with some searing electro-blues, before winding up with a fit of harmonising that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Fleet Foxes record. Yes, it is that good. Other highlights include the stunning -Funeral Singers’, which is one of those tunes that rebounds across the inside of your cranium long after its four-minute duration has passed; the brilliant -Bunuel’, a campfire singalong brimming over with bullets, whorehouses and civil wars; and -Evidence’, a slow-burning desert-kissed affair that rewards repeated listening.
Indeed, don’t expect to get this album at all the first or even second time around. There’s far too much going on in these songs to pick up even half of their subtleties until you’ve lived with them for a while, but it’s most definitely worth the wait. One of the albums of the year.