Roots and Crowns

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The guys in Califone are on a roll. Heron King Blues was one of the most interesting albums of 2004, and Roots & Crowns continues to build on their unique sound. On one hand, Califone's songs are pretty, melodic and acoustic more often that not; drawing musically from blues, folk, and Appalachia. On the other hand, they're radical experiments using feedback, noise, electronics and unfamiliar instruments and sounds to create sometimes otherworldly settings for their pretty songs. Factor in Tim Rutili's gift for utterly inscrutable lyrics and you've got a recipe for a band that sounds like no other. The methods remain much the same, but each time out the band brings in new elements. They bring back the "almost funk" of "2 Sisters Drunk on Each Other" from the last album on "Pink & Sour," also adding some sunny "oooh" backing vocals and a blast of Fripp-ian guitar. Adding a few horns to the mix, "Spider's House" almost sounds like it was arranged by Brian Wilson (but arranging for Califone, mind you), "A Chinese Actor" gets more into rock territory with chugging guitars and percussion and layers of noise and grit. The detailed arrangements and production are amazing: there's almost always a lot going on but there's still enough space for the songs to emerge. The sonic detail is a treat, with percussion of all sorts and electronic flotsam and jetsam all around the stereo field. Marimbas, pianos, guitars, strings, white noise, field recordings, samples and a host of other esoteric items all make themselves heard at various times. The songs themselves are easy to approach if difficult to decipher, and the production details reward repeated listens. This is a very original group who are really hitting their stride. They write interesting melodic songs, they've got brilliant ideas for arranging and production, and they've got the studio savvy to pull it all off in spectacular fashion.

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