Califone - Roots & Crowns
In this era of ever-decreasing attention spans and what's the next-next-big-thing mentality of many indie music fans (sadly, I am sometimes in this camp), it is a sign of a truly special album that compels one to go back and discover the entirety of the relevant band's back catalog. Such was the case upon hearing Califone's new album Roots & Crowns. Admittedly, I was pretty much a Califone newbie prior to my listening to this album, but I have since acquired both Heron King Blues and Quicksand/Cradlesnakes. My only question is how this band managed to fly under my radar for so long-- I'd heard a few songs here and there ("2 Sisters Drunk On Each Other", "Don't Let Me Die Nervous", and "Mean Little Seed"), but for some reason or another, I'd never given them a remotely fair shake.
Roots & Crowns has not received the hype or blog love it deserves. While bloggers drooled all over Grizzly Bear's Yellow House, I've encountered scantly a mention of this album, which is strange because I cannot help but think fans of that album would actually enjoy Roots & Crowns even more. For me, Yellow House is a strong album pervaded by a pleasant atmospherics and solid production, but the songwriting seems sometimes secondary to the overall sonic feel. Don't get me wrong, I think "On a Neck, On a Spit" is hell of a track and I'm still giving the album some spins...but, nothing on that record excites me the way this new Califone record does.
This album couldn't have came along at a better time for me-- as I was suffering through a pretty significant drought of exciting new music and this was almost exactly the kind of record I wanted to hear. Roots & Crowns is abstract and rewards multiple spins, but is also incredibly enjoyable right out of the box. It has plenty of experimental components but any avant-garde tendencies never obscure the actual songs, sounds both incredibly fresh yet deeply rooted in rustic Americana elements, and, perhaps most importantly, has the indescribable and elusive flow that is requisite of a great album.
Considering she is one of my favorite rock critics, it comes as no surprise that Amanda Petrusich's review for Pitchfork was insightful and incredibly well-written and I do not see how I could improve on her concluding paragraph: "Califone have always been stupidly underappreciated, and the further we stumble into the 21st century, the more this music starts to feel both familiar and necessary: Roots and Crowns is bluesy and soulful without reverting to revivalist schtick, and experimental without relying on blind cut-and-pasting. It is old and new, dirty and clean, alienating and accessible, sweet and ugly, organic and industrial, doting and vicious. It is one of the most quintessentially American records imaginable."
At the risk of sounding like a broken record lately, this album has entered the short-list for my favorite of the year within about 5 complete listens. This record evokes exactly the kind of feeling that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. A feeling of genuine excitement and joy upon hearing a silly little piece of music. A feeling that compels me to share this music with anyone who'll read/listen. A feeling, as instanced by the lack of post recently, that has been exceedingly rare as of late. For that feeling-- thank you, Califone.
MP3: Califone - "The Orchids" (link via Pitchfork Media)
MP3: Califone - "Spider House" (link via Cokemachineglow)
MP3: Califone - "3 Legged Animals" (link via Cokemachineglow)
Buy the album here.