Song of the Day: Califone - Funeral Singers

photo by John Adams

photo by John Adams

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs and recordings from Independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Midday host Cheryl Waters, is “Funeral Singers” by Califone from their 2009 album All My Friends Are Funeral Singers on Dead Oceans.

Califone - Funeral Singers (MP3)


Once ironically self-describing the project as an “easy listening” solo project, Califone frontman Tim Rutili and company -- Jim Becker (violin/banjo), Joe Adamik (drums) and Ben Massarella (various percussion) -- have been cobbling together thought-provoking thematic sounds for over a decade. Born from the blues-rock ashes of Red Red Meat, Chicago’s Califone has assumed a sonic personality that could never be equated to anything easy. Doing the same thing over and over? Easy. Adhering to formulaic song-structures? Easy. Using the usual instruments? Easy. No, Califone has done none of these things. Instead, over the years the band has released upon the world a catalog of records that serves to remind us of music’s oft-overlooked virtue and connection to other art forms. Concept album exploring the nature of recurring dreams? Yes (Heron King Blues on Thrill Jockey, 2004). Two compelling instrumental film scores exploring the connection between silent-era storytelling and music? Yes and yes (Deceleration One and Deceleration Two on Perishable Records, 2002 & Thrill Jockey, 2003).

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (on Dead Oceans) marks the next step in Califone’s uniquely cinematic journey to the other side of rock ‘n’ roll. This much anticipated followup to 2006’s Roots and Crowns (on Thrill Jockey) acts as a companion piece and soundtrack to the Rutili-written and directed feature film of the same name. The album, written in conjunction with the screenplay, uses much of the same imagery as the film: A lonely psychic woman’s life is turned upside down when the ghosts trapped inside her house forcibly try to escape.

The music itself is a densely packed atmospheric narrative housing nearly every single instrument you could ever imagine -– layers of guitar, banjo and violin are buoyed by steel drum, ukulele, optigon, loops and a variety of horns (from bass clarinet to French horns). Perhaps not the best example of the aforementioned orchestral skill, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers’ (sort of) title track is an excellent showcase for Rutili’s vocal prowess. Stripped to acoustics, banjo and gritty blues intonations, the song breathes deeply with sincerity and strength. The exhale comes toward the end of the song with lightly mixed electric guitar and ghostly tape loops. I take it back -- this is the perfect example of what Califone is capable of.

You can witness it for yourselves in Seattle on December 3 at the UW HUB Ballroom. Sure, it’s an odd place to see the band, but this won’t be your ordinary rock show. Rutili and the band will perform the soundtrack live to the movie. Check out the brief trailer of the movie below and head over to their MySpace page for more dates in the Northwest. You’re going to want to see this twice!

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One Comment

  1. David Hall
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Excellent review of the album. If you’re thinking about going to the show, and you should not only think about it, but do so, read my review of the first two times Califone performed live to the film. It’s something you’ll never forget.

    I’m just a fan, but a big one.

    http://www.owlandbear.com/shows/review-califone-october-10-museum-of-contemporary-art-chicago/

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