Califone’s debut, Roomsound, is a beat album from 2001, a comet stuck in the strange Midwestern sky with a head full of Burroughs’s choppy weirdness and a tail that scatters Ginsberg verse. Deeply rooted in American folk, Tim Rutili dissolved his ’90s country-blues moniker Red Red Meat to use Califone as his forum to lay absurdist “lyrics” and bare-bones, repetitive guitar drone beneath dated electronics and sonic-fringe strangeness. Thrill Jockey’s reissue of Roomsound (originally released on Rutili’s Perishable) as an enhanced CD that includes live footage of the band.
Rutili provides the words and slow-chord repetition as a platform for Brian Deck and Ben Massarella to navigate around with hollow, rusty, tinny beats, deadened percussion (“New Black Tooth”) and weird synth-play provided by whatever retro toys are immediately available. “Porno Starlet vs. Rodeo Clown” is lo-fi crackle with a distant radio fade; even better is when the AM frequency actually brakes into your dimension as it does with the child-like hallelujah chant of “Tayzee Nub.” Depending on your situation, they’ll either put you into a trance or cause your skin to crawl.
Rutili’s vocals are bizarre, mumbled, surreal, mystic, indistinguishable and typically nonsensical; they don’t exist to push any kind of message but rather as an exercise in metrical experimentation. “Traps for your fingers, fire for your mouth, stones for your passage, brass for your jaded” doesn’t seemingly mean anything, but it slides seamlessly into “Bottles & Bones” to make for the catchiest song on the album. Occasionally you’ll catch a story of sorts subtly unraveling — there is just enough imagery in “Slow Right Hand” to get a glimpse of something — but you’re chasing multiple threads and it’s a zero-sum game of dream interpretation. Every verse fits, leaving no room for choruses. These are strange currencies and sung poems that are structured as such.
Rutili once claimed that he hated rock ‘n’ roll, and this certainly confirms his disregard for conventional structure. Roomsound is chorus-free, lo-fi wizardry awash in Chicago credibility; it is, after all, the city that drove the post through rock.
Band Web site (includes audio)
Thrill Jockey Web site