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Califone | Quicksand/Cradlesnakes (Thrill Jockey)
An effective exercise in genre blurring, Califone's second album is awash with sonic experimentation, yielding a contemporary character from traditional instrumentation and Tim Rutili's earthy vocalisations. On Mean Little Seed, Rutili sounds like a bruised Jeff Tweedy feeling his way through an 'Exile on Main St.' outtake, on Vampiring Again he brings a lightness of touch a la Sam Prekop to the album's most accessible (i.e. tuneful) track. Prekop's stylings are also a lyrical touchstone, obtuse and secondary to the delivery and phonetic form and shape. Ben Massarella's ever-creative layers of percussion forge dense backdrops onto (and into) which additional elements are strategically placed.  With recent recruit Jim Becker handling the majority of strings and electronics and a handful of guest musicians, Califone achieve something not unlike you'd expect a Mark Linkous/Howe Gelb collaboration to invoke, heavy on atmosphere and with an off-hand approach to the songwriting rulebook. What pulls 'Quicksand/Cradlesnakes' from the mire of experimentation for experimentation's sake, is a fundamental grasp of - and a vividly apparent respect for - the song within. Hence, as on closer Stepdaughter, the fiddle-led Million Dollar Funeral, or the aforementioned Mean Little Seed, when less is more, Califone know when to step back and say, "job done."

Matt Dornan
March-April 2003