My immediate reaction to All My Friends are Funeral Singers was that it was a step back from the increasingly frayed atmosphere of 2006’s Roots & Crowns. It came off much more like a stepping stone from the band’s Perishable Records era, a mid-point between Roomsound and Quicksand/Cradlesnakes. But then I kept listening. After three straight days of the Califone discography, an unquestionable observation was apparent: By Roomsound, Califone’s sound was fully realized. In eight years and five full-length records, the level of consistency and dedication to exploring that sound has been incredibly admirable.
That sound, of course, is an atypical blend of the pastoral and the clamorous. Appalachian folk, rustic blues-rock and somber country ballads tattered with feedbacking psychedelia and throbbing, dissonant electronic abstractions. It’s a strange world where the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Can live harmoniously.
“Giving Away the Bride” kicks the new album off with a rudimentary barrage of shakers, drum machine, deep synth gurgles and Califone’s typical kitchen-sink rhythm section. The song’s melody is left to Tim Rutili’s hushed vocals, a bucolic plea lost in a mess of electronic cacophony. The following track, “Polish Girls,” a more straight-ahead electric guitar-driven rock song, begins to shake off the less-acoustic materials. Unfortunately for fans of the more abstract side of the band, All My Friends progressively bends toward the rootsy. Except for a few awkward steel drum-laden interludes, there is a lot more violin and banjo than feedback and looped clatter.
“Alice Marble Gray” all but makes up for the album’s handful of indistinguishable songs. Built out of an all-too simple tom and snare-rim rhythm with a looped guitar melody overtop, Rutili’s nonsensical mumblings mingle sweetly with his own overdubbed coos. Undemanding synth effects amble in and out of the mix, while a muted horn section ushers out the song. It’s Califone at its finest: a pastoral countryside tinted with all the colors of the city.
All My Friends are Funeral Singers is a companion piece to a feature-length film of the same name also written and directed by Rutili. Many of the songs from the album were written in conjunction with the script, so that may be some of the reasoning behind the seemingly anachronistic sound in relation to Roots & Crowns. Regardless, it is another well-made and executed Califone album, and it stays completely true to their concept. Consistency is underrated."
I love this band. Tim Rutili's voice is like butter smothered all over my ears. If that sounds oddly sexual, I'm sorry. As mentioned, it's a soundtrack to a movie they made and by all indications, this movie will rule. Great "avant folk/blues" as they are commonly described, especially if you focus on the rhythm. They have failed to disappoint yet, even this being their third or fourth best album. Very highly recommended.
Also of note: All of you Chicagoland readers should pop by the Contemporary Art Museum either 10/10 or 10/11 as Califone will play the new album and screen their film as well. It's cheap for students with an ID. They're on a national tour doing this but I wanted to alert the (assumed) large Chicago contingent. I'm going Sunday and I hope many of you go too.