In the early years of this millennium, Califone were one of the most prolific forces in indie rock. Year after year, the Chicago experimentalists — led by Tim Rutili, previously of bluesy sonic explorers Red Red Meat — would return with a rewarding new collection of tunes at the intersection of folk, noise, post-rock, and whatever else burbled up from their imagination. So it’s wild to realize Califone haven’t released an album in seven years, and it’s exciting to learn they’re about to rectify that.
The group’s last new album was Stitches in 2013. Since then, there has been scattered output from the Califone camp: an EP called Insect Courage, a reissue of 2003’s masterful Quicksand/Cradlesnakes with the attendant unreleased bonus tracks, a droning Rutili collaboration with Craig Ross called Guitars Tuned To Air Conditioners that quite literally delivered on the title’s promise. At first glance, their latest release might be perceived as that kind of peripheral excursion: an album that doubles as the original score to a dance performance by Robyn Mineko Williams.
But Echo Mine is also a real-deal Califone album, one that will either remind you why they were so great in the first place or introduce you to a new favorite. Rutili and company continue to come up with fresh spins on their signature sound, perhaps thanks to inspiration from Mineko Williams’ graceful motion. “The movement and the music started together and grew together, like two clear entities,” Rutili explains in a statement. “At times totally intertwined and at other times bouncing off one another, sort of like reflections. But, somehow, always connected and listening.” He continues, “Robyn is an abstract painter. I’m not sure how to explain what she does, but we all felt it deeply while creating this music.”
You don’t need to see the dancing to appreciate what Califone have come up with here. On Echo Mine, they continue to conjure a sound unlike any other, Rutili’s weathered vocals creeping their way through electronic blues-folk songs that sound like a post-apocalyptic cityscape. The label’s triangulation of Low, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Yo La Tengo pretty much nails it — or, as I’ve been telling potential converts for years, imagine a more avant-garde spin on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sound.
More from Rutili:
Ben Massarella, Brian Deck and I worked in a way that felt like a return to home; Brian handling the engineering, electronics, drums and overall sound of the piece, Ben adding percussion, feel, essential textures and colors. I felt like my job was to hover over all of it like a moth. Find melody in everything. Leave openings for everyone to work at the top of their creativity. We made our album, Roomsound, in much the same way (almost 20 years ago). Three of us in the studio — Be humans. Play together as much as possible. A good feel beats perfection every time. Add other musicians to add other voices and other colors, to do the things we can’t do.
Stream Echo Mine in full below.
Echo Mine is out 2/21 on Jealous Butcher. Pre-order it here.