Off to DC to see Califone, as close as they'll get to the deep south on this tour. Unlike some of the bands I've enjoyed over the years, Califone has maintained a rare level of aesthetic integrity and intelligence. I first heard "Dime Fangs" from an early ep while ensconced in my cubical atop QAD's hill in Summerland, where I wrote manufacturing software text with earphones on, where I went out to the parking lot with Mike Thorne on breaks to chat and sip coffee and look for dolphins leaping in the oily Pacific.
Their songs hit me in two opposing registers. So familiar. So strange. Early on, explaining it to people, I oversimplified it by calling it avant bluegrass. The two registers spiral around a palpable but invisible axis anchoring everything. Tim's hand-rolled voice and Jim's slide guitar and banjo power chords and Joe's tight snares and Ben's percussive inventions lull you like a summer afternoon at a family reunion in the park where they filmed Carnival of Souls. Lines drawn sharp like a cartoon memory (banjos, fiddles), but the ghosts of interference shadow everything, tense vivid dreams and unreconciled longings, accumulations of personal history, intimacy and terror, and once in awhile release in a pure rock burst, like a sigh's.
I briefly reviewed Roots and Crowns on Amazon, and it still feels pretty good:
If Joseph Cornell's boxes could sing they'd sound like this, narratives blown like an old transmission, parts clinking along the pavement, underwires pinging and cupping lasciviously, all sweet blues and sweeter decay. If you're familiar, Califone improves on their already remarkable range, lacing horns into the loops, pulling a gem out of Psychic TV's catalog with "The Orchids." If you're not familiar, it helps if you like the slow surprise of a junk drawer opening, scraps of paper scrawled in pencil, that bolt you need, that tiny photo of someone you used to know. The lyrics are poems, the songs sublime.