Califone

Califone
(Road Cone)

At first blush, Tim Rutili's five-song EP about disaster, grace, dumb luck and fear of machinery might seem like a cynical prayer for peacenik John Lennon. Consider the hollow, resonating piano of the disc's opener, "Electric Fence," and its narrator's vocal resemblance to the Fab Four's often acid-tongued martyr: "Jesus drains electric fences to fill you again," the ex-frontman for Chicago's neo-blues outfit Red Red Meat mumbles like a sleepwalker. "Wash in a fountain/lean into the kill," he moans along to a clattering, industrial backdrop of snail-paced drums and blown fuses. Sparse and impressionistic, the songwriting leaves enough emptiness for the listener to fill in the necessary blanks. And though God is still a concept by which we measure our pain (as Lennon theorized in his primal-screaming Plastic Ono days), Rutili's grim world offers His children an alternative as comforting as a bug zapper; in all of life's seeming finality, dearest ones, there's likely more room inside a body bag than on any uptown train come Judgment Day.

"St. Martha Let It Fold" transports us to a dry, rural and Depression-era setting complete with rabid coon dogs and a steel guitar -- a fitting place to eulogize the patron saint of housewives and waitresses. Again Rutili softly rants like a backwoods William Blake: "Nail gun marines foaming midget horses/Black smoke threads a straight line from your kidney to your hand/From your hand to kingdom come/Be light enough to ride the backside of a magnet/Let it stay, let it stay." Former Meat-mate Tim Hurley (from Sin Ropa) plays something called a "quank," which might involve plunking rusty bed springs but is played at such a low volume that it's hard to tell. "Beneath the Yachtsman" embodies another etheric sensation, with the heaving bellows of a pump organ drifting in and out of buzzing electronics set to drummer Ben Massarella's slow tribal beat. "Don't Let Me Die Nervous" constitutes the work's most accessible Kodak moment, an unaccompanied acoustic number that recalls Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." And the dreamy "Dock Boggs" -- named after an Appalachian banjo player -- uses the lyrical fragments "got no sugar/got no honey" like a gospel mantra for an exhausted soul.

Deceptively quiet and elegant, Califone's second offering should appeal to fans of musical critters Sparklehorse and Tortoise -- or any recovering Catholic visionary who meditates best on a lo-fi scrap heap.

 
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