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Califone
Deceleration One
Perishable Records

This album came out a few months ago, but Luna Kafé is a wilfully esoteric and idiosyncratic e-zine, so what the hell. It ties in with my review of Yo La Tengo's The Sounds of the Sounds of Science from a couple of months ago, and I'd rather write about records that few people will have heard than have to think about something entertaining and new to say about records that have just come out and have already been extensively covered, like Sea Change by Beck.

Califone are an American band that don't seem to have a particularly wide following, yet they produce music that is pretty much exactly the kind of stuff I like to listen to. They twist the basic guitar-bass-drums format into new shapes; play around with conceptions of composed and improvised music; make music that is subtly emotive and tantalisingly difficult to pin down in terms of genre.

Prior to hearing this album I'd only heard one of their early EPs. Apart from the ten minutes of superfluous ambient sound at the end, the EP is stunning, and contains two perfect songs: "Pastry Sharp" and "Dime Fangs". Within the course of three minutes each of these songs manage to be catchy yet evasive in their use of melody. The vocals are delivered in a luxurious laidback style that is neither contrived nor throwaway. The lyrics hint at feelings that are maddeningly difficult to articulate. Effectively, in just the course of an EP Califone managed to say things that I didn't realise I wanted to hear.

Their debut full-length Roomsound is proving incredibly tiresome to track down, especially from England, but I managed to pick up Deceleration One as a second choice. The album contains music that was improvised as accompaniment to two short films, and as such isn't considered to be a 'proper album' although with a stretch of the imagination it may cohere as such.

The first six tracks in particular are excellent, each built around delicate slivers of guitar and brushed drums, borrowing phrases from each other and hanging together just carefully enough to suggest that there's some genius at work. The music works by just being plain beautiful on its own, regardless of whether it's accompanying film.

The middle third is harder work, and can get annoying, especially as some of it fits into the category of backing music that uses obvious signifiers to convey action on the screen. The familiar "Here comes a silly character" sounds are especially irritating, and with titles like "Monkey, Cat, Ballerina and Hood Escape from Moving Car/Clown Loses Head/Dog Stays" you can't help but itch to see what the hell is happening on screen. The laughter in the background makes it all the more frustrating. On its own the music is too loosely woven to truly engage.

The end of the CD thankfully returns to similar territory as the beginning, tantalising the listener with delicate melodies and skilfully deployed drones. The final track is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard in the past few months, and that at least makes me thankful I found this disc.

There are rumours that there will be a Deceleration Two on DVD, so perhaps this kind of instrumental soundtrack will find a more fitting format in which to be enjoyed. Deceleration One has some some excellent moments, although I do find it hard to listen to as a whole. Perhaps it's the kind of record that reveals itself to be a masterpiece on the fiftieth spin. It does, however, leave me salivating to hear Roomsound and any new material that will emerge in 2003.

Copyright © 2002 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Califone articles/reviews: Insect Courage EP, Roomsound - Deluxe Reissue, Stitches.

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