Califone

Quicksand/Cradlesnakes

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With Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, Califone finally sounds like a confident, poised outfit rather than a Tim Rutili work-in-progress. It may lack some of the highlights of Roomsound, but Quicksand/Cradlesnakes makes up for it through consistency and pacing. Califone still explores the shadowlands between acoustic and electronic sounds, but the experimentation is more focused here, more in support of the song. The duo of Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella remains at the group's core, but longtime Califone collaborator Brian Deck sits this one out, and as a result Quicksand/Cradlesnakes has a sparser, less-textured feel than its predecessor. The clinking, clanging, buzzing, and scraping are still present, as well as the occasional burst of controlled feedback -- something that has followed this crew since the days of Red Red Meat. But the underlying songs are stronger than before. "Michigan Girls" and "Vampiring Again" display Rutili's often-buried melodic gift, while "Million Dollar Funeral," though brief, is possibly Rutili's finest stab at a postmodern folk song, as well as his most blatant testament of love for Harry Smith's Anthology and Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. "When Leon Spinx Moved to Town" is Lyle Lovett on acid and "Your Golden Ass" is a rattling slide guitar romp full of surrealistic non sequiturs. The musical accompaniment -- replete with fiddles, tape loops, and kitchen-sink percussion -- is always understated and appropriate; the embellishments never hijack the songs. It's perhaps natural to view Quicksand/Cradlesnakes as a companion piece to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; the two bands have toured together, they emerged from the same milieu, and they both tinker in electro-acoustic hybridization. The comparison is somewhat valid -- the albums do share a similar feel. But Quicksand/Cradlesnakes easily stands on its own, and is less a bold statement of principle as it is a blossoming into maturity.

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