Califone – Stitches

doc080mockup30.11183 I’ve made the point a few times now, but it feels a bit like I am writing Song, by Toad 2006 at times these days. Musical fashion is supposed to move in twenty-year cycles, not seven-year ones, what the fuck is going on? Whatever it is, here’s another album of gorgeous, if slightly twisted Americana I am absolutely loving at the moment.

Califone are fifteen years and twelve albums into their career, and Stitches (buy a copy here) is the first one I’ve truly fallen for. That’s not out of dislike, though. It’s more that I kinda tried to get into one of their records several years back, it didn’t quite click and for all I’ve been aware of their existence ever since, I’ve never given them another serious go until now.

What made the difference? I don’t know. I was sent the title track by a trusted PR source, which always makes a wee bit of a difference. And… I don’t know, maybe I gave it longer, maybe just concentrating on the one song helped, and maybe I was just in a more receptive mood. It was still far from immediate, though.

This album has been lurking around my ‘Incoming’ playlist for weeks, and honestly I tended to drift off halfway through for the first few weeks. In some ways listening to music at your desk is nice, of course, but it can make you a bit inattentive. This record is more of a ‘glass of wine, evening in’ kind of a record and it wasn’t until realised this that I really got it.

Recent ‘Americana’* releases I have fawned over on these pages include the lush and beautiful John Murry record and the stunning new album from the Willard Grant Conspiracy. This sits somewhere inbetween. It has neither the fascinated/horrified grip of the Willard Grant Conspiracy, nor the lush, produced loveliness of John Murry, It does have some of the elements of Murry’s album, such as the lush choral backing vocals here and there, but whilst the WGC album takes a scalpel to that kind of loveliness, this just seems to mug it with chloroform.

Consequently you have an album which doesn’t so much interrupt its more beautiful moments with more distorted, disorientating noise, as it does smother them. A bit like the glorious Timber Timbre, this album has a subtle knack of leaving you forever undecided about how nice it is. It uses minimal electronic beats at times, drones and noise in some of the production, and a drifting, uncertain sense of pace to maintain a sense of mood which can forever go either way.

I suppose if you wanted to go back a while it also shares kinship with the awesome Confluence by Howe Gelb – a combination of dusty beauty, experimental discomfort and ramshackle stumbling – another album released in that weird dead zone ten years in the past, when music is supposed to be at its most unfashionable and embarrassing.

Anyhow, I can’t tell you much more than that. I think this record is fucking gorgeous, but given I admitted at the beginning to it being by first real connection with a back catalogue twelve albums deep I am in no position to comment on the band themselves really, or where this sits with respect to the rest of their canon. I can tell you that it’s ace though, and encourage you to make time to listen to it from start to finish, and with attention, because if you take the time to do so you will be rewarded. I, on the other hand, am off to buy the album they released before this one and see how I get on.

*Don’t worry, I don’t think that term really means much either.