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Dustbowl country, haunting percussion improvisations, and rugged rock & roll are roughly hammered together on the fourth album from Califone. Salvaged from the ashes of Drag City’s supremely haunting blues travellers Red Red Meat, this shape-shifting group--built around the core duo of Ben Massarella and Tim Rutili--is a hard to pin down. "Your Golden Ass" is an inelegant, leathery garage drone that sounds like the Modern Lovers collectively overdosing in an alley on the Lower East Side. "Horoscopic Amputation Honey" rolls mandolin, cello, and sparse electronics into an offbeat, yet oddly hymnal campfire sing-along, while "Cat Eats Coyote" is an on-the-spot foray into junkyard percussion and ghostly sax. All these stylistic skips mean that Quicksand/Cradlesnakes feels like a contradictory mix of city savvy and rural roughness, extravagant technology and salvage-store poverty. Anyone that felt Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Calexico’s Feast of Wire should have been more experimental will be well-served by this exploration of marginal Americana.


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.

Additional Information

Artist Califone
Track Listing 1 One - :54 2 Horoscopic. Amputation. Honey - 7:14 3 Michigan Girls - 4:01 4 Cat Eats Coyote - 1:33 5 Your Golden Ass - 5:05 6 (Red) - 5:50 7 Million Dollar Funeral - 2:19 8 When Leon Spinx Moved into Town - 5:32 9 Mean Little Seed - 4:00 10 Vampiring Again - 5:04 11 Slower Train - 4:42 12 Stepdaughter - 3:19

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