Chicago band Califone combine early American folk and blues with off-kilter electronic sounds that gather themselves into mesmerizing, well-worn grooves. "Quicksand/Cradlesnakes," their fifth album in as many years, is full of instrumental intricacies. Guitars are surrounded by a farmyard full of busybody fiddles, banjos and percussion, building up a constantly shifting, layered sound.
Regardless, it's Tim Rutili's songwriting -- his surreal poetry playing off the warm, comfortably lived-in melodies -- that steals the show. While the lyrics mostly drift by in an unbroken stream of free association, they occasionally crystallize into striking images: "Drowned and drinking in light/ God's eyes are closed/ Just like yours." The album opener "horoscopic.amputation.honey" is reminiscent of a number of tracks on Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot": a simple, beautiful song smashed into pieces and then put carefully back together, with electronic noise and tape loops acting as glue.
"Vampiring Again," a straight-ahead alt-country rocker, is the record's sunniest, most carefree moment. "Mean Little Seed," driven by Jim Becker's minimalist banjo playing, comes surprisingly close to jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's old-timey work on recent records such as "The Willies." "Quicksand/Cradlesnakes" is Califone's best work yet and easily one of the year's most memorable recordings.
"Quicksand/Cradlesnakes" is out now on Thrill Jockey.