Califone frontman Tim Rutili has been busy since the band's 2006 release, Roots & Crowns. Recently involved with a brief summer reunion of his previous band, Red Red Meat (in conjunction with the Sub Pop reissue of their seminal Bunny Gets Paid, which was reviewed here earlier this year), Rutili has also simultaneously directed an independent film, All of My Friends Are Funeral Singers, while writing a new Califone record under the same title to act as an accompanying soundtrack.
All of My Friends Are Funeral Singers is far from a "traditional" soundtrack. Even though Califone has released more or less ambient material, such as their Deceleration series records, there isn't any evidence of it here. All of My Friends ... is simply a great record of intricate songs. Hence, the "soundtrack" stands on its own, and because of its focus (tied to the film), Califone's ninth studio record may be one of the band's best releases to date.
Along with Rutili, Califone is a tight-knit quartet of talented multi-instrumentalists with Joe Adamik, Jim Becker, Ben Massarella and longtime collaborator/producer Brian Deck (both Massarella and Deck were members of Red Red Meat). Various members have also collaborated and/or played on other artists' records, such as Iron & Wine (The Shepherd's Dog).
All of My Friends ... continues the band's subverted quality -- the employment of industrial-based, terse sounds and effects blended with organic (and often archaic) instruments that has consistently marked the Califone sound -- a truly Weird Americana. Yet with this latest effort Rutili seems to lean more toward the "organic," emphasizing less of the "industrial," trusting the melody and bare framework of the song. The album is a close cousin to the previous (and excellent) Quicksand/Cradlesnakes (2003) and Roomsound (2001) with its more scaled-back sound.
"Polish Girls" executes a catchy pop melody, leaving Rutili's vocals and scratchy acoustic guitar up in the mix, allowing the song to crescendo organically without overwhelming (or overly subverting) the song. There are also odd turns: "1928" has hints of a Northern African influence with its simple repeating guitar line propelling the song, while "Alice Marble Grey" bears a Nick Drake stamp. "A WISH MADE WHILE BURNING ONIONS WILL COME TRUE" is a pure hootenanny/gospel number with the band's flair for unconventional embellishments inserting an off-kilter edge.
The more methodical cuts, such as "Evidence" and "Krill," allow space for Califone to fully expand as a unit, with additional string and horn contributions delivering long beautiful arcs, more associated with bands like Sìgur Ròs or Radiohead.
All of My Friends Are Funeral Singers captures a band at an artistic peak, one that has seasoned and matured while staying true to its roots. It's also Califone's most cohesive collection. Perhaps this is also a reflection of its songwriter/leader, Tim Rutili, who seems comfortable simply letting the song rip.