Califone “villagers”

Jealous Butcher Records, 2023

An evocative, stream of consciousness and harmony interspersed with some surprises.

Tim Rutili, the main man behind Califone, has been producing records for almost a quarter of a century. Califone’s new album’s contains nine songs which comprise elements of classic radio pop, as well as electronic experimentation. The sound could possibly be described as folk with electronic interludes, but that seems like a much too simplistic portrayal. Rutili says, “It feels comfortable to combine elements of Captain Beefheart, soft rock from the ’70s, and broken digital sounds. There are words that shouldn’t go together and images that are smashed together that maybe shouldn’t be, but it feels right”.

The introspective lyrics are often obtuse and come across as a stream of consciousness, but listen closely and maybe Rutili is trying to convey something that isn’t as haphazard as it first appears. The records open with ‘the habsburg jaw‘. The Habsburg royal family at one point ruled over an area stretching from Portugal to Transylvania. Generation after generation, Habsburg monarchs had sharply jutting jaws, bulbous lower lips and long noses, which recent research indicates probably resulted from inbreeding. The cryptic lyrics point to the entitlement of the rich as they ‘drink to the family money‘ and conspiracy theories reflected in ‘chem trails and holy grails‘. It could well be Rutili’s thoughts on Generation Z nepo babies or just the grossly rich ruling-classes as a whole.

villagers‘ seems to document a person with a troubled past and who is haunted by their memories. The imagery is evocative with ‘a Roxy Music cassette dying in the dashboard sun‘ as the protagonist seeks redemption and a sense of home. The beautiful music is interspersed with electronic blips. ‘comedy‘ features some soothing piano and saxophone, but what is comedy? According to Rutili it’s ‘coming back from the war’, an ‘embraceable void’ or ‘beginning-less time’. The abstract images work well against the music.

ox-eye’ starts with proclaiming that ‘Ghosts are only time machines, Just as afraid of you as you are’. Over a piano, there’s a scratchy electric guitar, and rattling electronic percussion. Maybe it’s about the world’s obsession with technology and what it means to get lost in it. Rutili offers an esoteric explanation of the song’s meaning saying, “This song is a catfish. Not like the fish. More like a person who pretends to be someone else online in order to possess them. This one can’t stop looking at its phone and is addicted to reality TV shows”.

Rutili’s voice sounds well worn, but not rough, like a pair of hand-made, leather shoes that are comfortable and slightly scuffed. The moments of eerie distortion or surprise juxta-positioned against a guitar, piano or saxophone on this album are reminiscent of the genius that was Mark Linkous’s Sparklehorse and that alone should be recommendation enough.


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