US - Illinois - Full Moon 74 - 10/21/02
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
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