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splendid > reviews > 4/22/2003
Califone
Califone
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes
Thrill Jockey


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Horoscopic. Amputation. Honey"

Buy me now
If I write, with the utmost seriousness, that Quicksand/Cradlesnakes suggests the influence of Fleetwood Mac, Super Furry Animals and Alan Lomax, would you believe me? Would you jeer, or question me closely? Would you unbuckle my belt, or check my breath and gait? If so, you'd be wasting your time and mine -- you ought to be heading for a record store, your personal dealer or your favourite CD-selling website instead.

I'll begin my praise with the bizarre but fascinating "Horoscopic.Amputation.Honey". It buzzes along with SFA blitheness, a driving weirdness that buzzes and blazoogles toward a fuzzy distortion fadeout that reminds me of most of the faster songs on Guerrilla. "Michigan Girls" is dramatically different, but equally lovely; it's as haunting and sexy as all the rolled vowel sounds in a John Ashbery poem, thrusting the "e" and "i" and "oh-my" in you. If I were a Michigan girl, rather than a Maryland vixen, I'd play this as my theme song for life. Cellos pull you in and wrap you with long, deep notes that coil around your throat and tighten, while acoustic guitar slowly thumbs its way past plucked piano keys and echoing violins into your heart. While the violins often echo the cello notes, they also scrape and meander, like drunks wandering around the block looking for home. Then you have Tim Rutili gently intoning lyrics that seem to have been pulled from an unexplored extra heart-chamber. I've heard few records that deliver as much in an hour as "Michigan Girls" does in its few minutes. The parts are combined so successfully that it's more like an organic act of God than a work of art.

"Michigan Girls" is the album highlight, but the group is almost as good when it eschews folksiness for a circus-like, Willhelmian modernity, as in "Cat Eats Coyote"; how the hell can such beautiful juxtapositions be made from such strangely disparate elements like wire drum, reverb tank, gutter noises and guitar?

The band's driving urge for experimentation will always make them so attractive to music lovers, but their success with it makes them more than interesting -- their avant statements carry the flavor of importance. Credit the band members' sheer musical talent for making the experiments bleed so effortlessly from their veins. Unlike the 400 monkeys in a room, who might sweat out a line of Shakespeare after 400 years of typing, Califone have made a monster of an achievement in a short, blazing flash.



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