Having spent the past fifteen years lurking in the now well-established shadow of fellow Chicagoans Wilco, Califone’s subtle yet influential presence in the American alt-rock scene continues to avoid the attention of a wider audience. Songwriter Tim Rutili’s lazy vocal style in no way reflects his ambition and vision as a musician. From his lead role throughout the nineties in the often overlooked Red Red Meat, to collaborations with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, Rutili has been a constant and important factor in American indie music over the past twenty years. Stitches, it is clear, is the work of a man rich with experience in his respective field.
Opener ‘Movie Music Kills a Kiss’ rambles along with Rutili’s vocal delivery bringing to mind Bill Callahan’s poetic drawl. A steady crescendo peaks with a frantic organ stuttering in the background before the track retreats into closure. From the first couple of tracks there is a sense that ambient Americana seems to be the general tone of the album. However, third track ‘Frosted Tips’ merges into a fully formed high tempo rock out, complete with thumping drums and heavy bass. The album is well weighted in that it offers these sturdy pop influences amongst the drawn out ambience that embodies many of the tracks; a reward for the patient listener.
Traditional Americana and lo-fi electronics mingle throughout the album. ‘Moonbath. Brainsalt. A. Holy. Fool’ relaxes into a soft steel pedal led ballad reminiscent of Will Oldham; an example of alt-country influences being pushed to the front of the mix. Whereas on tracks such as ‘Bells Break Arms’ and ‘A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust’, synthesisers and electronic effects resonate prominently around distorted guitars and programmed drums. The influence of nineties American alt-rock is prevalent throughout Califone’s whole discography and this is no different on Stitches. The layers of ranging instrumentation on ‘We are a Payphone’ bring to mind the intricate arrangements of Lambchop, whilst the wobbly electronics and sparse synths which drone for the closing minute of final track ‘Turtle Eggs/ An Optimist’ could easily fit into a Yo La Tengo album.
Whilst keeping to the distinct sound which has resulted in fifteen years of consistently noteworthy material, Califone also offer new and interesting ideas throughout Stitches. It is the sound of a band clearly relishing the ageing process. The new Califone album is more than just a stitch in their already impressive tapestry (excuse the pun).By James Hopkin