Califone: Stitches

Photo: Dusdin Condren

Stitches finds a power in its directness that has led to some of the band's best music.



Label: Dead Oceans
US Release Date: 2013-09-03
UK Release Date: 2013-09-02

Califone's music has always relied on blending Americana with electronic tones and sonic experimentation. Tim Rutili and bandmates typically haven't swung from, say, industrial influences to rustic ballads, but they've worked various influences into a cohesive sound, even if it occasionally ended up as an off-kilter funk jam or something else. In thinking about or listening to the group's sonic integrations, it would be easy to miss the key element in their success: the melodic songwriting at the center of their pieces. While Califone's latest album Stitches wanders into mildly abrasive territory at times, it mostly shows the band again centering more on folk influences, building around basic songs rather than overly worrying the electronic work. In doing so, they've played to a strength in making their best album in some time.

"Frosted Tips" provides the album's high point. Its intro misdirects the listener, and the song turns out to be a chugging rock song. It's still well-textured, and the instrumentation and slight effects make it distinctly Califone. The "watching the new world die" refrain develops an almost joyful apocalypticism that turns out to be more personal than eschatological, even if St. John and his beard make an appearance. There's a grind to the the song that drives a catchy melody and memorable backing.

"Moses" moves slowly and shows the band's skill in optimizing unused space. The track is largely a simple acoustic affair, aided by strings. The song rides on a single note plucking, turning the few chordal progressions into resonant focus points for an airy number. The band's rarely that straightforward, though (and perhaps that's part of what makes "Frosted Tips" and "Moses" work so well). The following number, "A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust", builds on the tone of "Moses", but does so by utilizing an electronic drumbeat for the melody to sit atop. It's a pretty song, and over the course of nearly six minutes, Califone does their best to run noisy sandpaper over it, turning it into a better song. The melodic core remains, but the song grows in texture and distinctiveness.

That the next cut immediately opens with a basic acoustic guitar riff suggests that Califone's getting back to a basic orientation, which they do, but with enough stray tones and ambient textures that "We Are a Payphone" never settles comfortably, no matter how restrained Rutili's vocals stay. If that's not enough, we get just some stray horn flourishes.

Opener "Movie Music Kills a Kiss" doesn't quite prepare us for any of this experimentation. That song, except for its outro, wouldn't be out of place on a number of indie-folk records, or maybe even a Richard Buckner song. It does have plenty of little complexities, though, and a steady build that leads in nicely to the more digital and expansive opening of the title track."Stitches", and the album that shares the name, doesn't offer the experimentation an abrasion of some of Califone's other work. It's more direct in many places, but finds a power in that directness that has led some of the band's best music.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.