WRCU Reviews: Rock Review

Steven Butler

The Thrill Jockey label is having quite a year, with releases by Howe Gelb, Pit Er Pat, OOIOO, and Tortoise among the best, gaining more critical respect as each day passes. Amazingly, Califone’s latest, Roots & Crowns, just might top all of those other extremely noteworthy releases and meets or exceeds all of their previous albums.

From the almost-twang of opener “Pink & Sour,” to the ambient closer “If You Would,” Roots & Crowns brings together all of the elements that made Califone one of the country’s most interesting bands without feeling like it’s rehashing anything. Their Books-meets-Wilco instrumentation, which mostly centers around buzzing acoustic guitar lines and homemade percussion with any instrument they have lying around (violin, trumpet, accordion, marimba) thrown on top, provides the perfect backdrop for Tim Rutili’s warm voice and impressionistic lyrics. The first single, “Spider’s House,” with its clockwork rhythm, horns, and vocal harmonies, is all Beach Boys, but elsewhere the band avoids showing off its influences-tracks like the two-parted album centerpiece “Black Metal Valentine” are entirely Califone.

The album’s single most stunning track is without a doubt “The Orchids,” a superior version of an obscure Psychic TV track, where Rutili almost whispers an achingly beautiful melody over a gently picked acoustic guitar and small squalls of noise.