i like a lot of bands, it's true. there aren't a lot of constants over the years in my 10 favorite albums lists. i guess that's because a lot of bands come and go. many make a great album and then fall off of my radar (see ...Trail of Dead, Clap Your Hands..., and others). but there are bands that transcend their musical production and actually manage to influence my life in some way. among these bands i can only count The Flaming Lips and their world-embracing appeal. that's pretty much the only one that really moves me beyond the music and words. Wayne Coyne is the perfect weirdo whose genuine humanity is so apparent (and who seems most transparent) that it becomes difficult if not impossible to fall in love with the guy and his band.
but i'll add Califone to that list now. since 2004's Heron King Blues, i was pretty attracted to Califone's kitchen-sink brand of folk rock. so dusty, so dirty, so mangled and yet, when the heavy fog of noises dissipated, there were moments of music so affecting in their mood and sound alone, that i didn't mind the 15 minute jams of garbage can percussion and reserved noodling on any number of what seem to be rusty string-ed guitars.
nothing could have prepared me for 2006's Roots and Crowns, though, which placed number 7 in my 2006 year-end list (which, in hindsight, is way way too low). since then, the album has become a staple in my rotation, and i am certain it will land on my decade's favorites list coming at the end of this year. there's something that draws me into their world of imperfectly-tuned instruments, matched with varied and always erratic percussion, all united under tim rutili's rusty, world-worn crooning that keeps me listening. i have a hard time not listening actively to Califone anytime i play them.
if i were to put my finger on it, i would say that when i listen to Califone i feel like i'm hearing a band that expresses what for me is "soul music". i don't mean that in the sense of the genre "soul", rather in that i sense that a lot of soul has gone into the music - and that this music connects with my soul as a consequence. lyrics like "in the morning after the night i fall in love with the light" from "The Orchids" (even though it was not written by Califone) contrast with the a-typically more cryptic "the carnival fighters are sharing a bed tonight bruised in the hay" on "Spider's House". but both of these lyrics are sung with Rutili's downcast sincerity and both acquire the same amount of significance.
now, with 2009's "All My Friends Are Funeral Singers", Califone have added another very strong album to their catalogue. they don't sound different and that's just fine with me. they practice the same restraint as always, tucking away some of their more precious melodic gems into 20 or 30 seconds of 5-minute songs (see the piano's entrance toward the later half of "Giving Away the Bride"). it's this restraint that i think keeps me most interested as a listener, as i am regularly bowled over by melodic passages that creep into songs in ways that are totally unforeseeable. to use a completely random but applicable analogy, Califone makes order (melody) out of chaos (their own chaotic musical structures) in the same way that Brian Phillips (of http://www.runofplay.com) talked about Barcelona making order (beautiful fúbol) out of chaos (22 men running around a field chasing a ball). Califone's disruptive and often odd musical styles make their moments of clarity, melody and beauty that much more clear, melodic and beautiful.
it's good to know that some music isn't just music that sounds good to me: some of it reaches deeper.