An eclectic experimental rock ensemble from Chicago, Califone make music that finds a common ground between acoustic and electronic sounds, as well as forming a bridge between an organic, melodic approach and a purposeful dissonance that's challenging yet intelligent. Embracing folk and blues disciplines as well as the avant-garde, experimental electronics, and minimalism, Califone are a group that can engage listeners with their humanity while gently but decisively exploring the outer limits of their work's conventions. Califone earned a following with celebrated early works such as 2001's Roomsound and 2003's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, while 2006's Roots and Crowns was widely hailed as a career high point, and 2020's Echo Mine found them still in inspired form after a long layoff from recording.
Califone was formed in 1997 by Tim Rutili after the breakup of his previous band, the blues-influenced indie rock outfit Red Red Meat. Rutili initially intended for Califone (named for a brand of audio equipment often used in schools) to be a solo project, and the band's lineup would remain fluid throughout their run. Rutili's first recordings made under the Califone banner were one-man efforts recorded using computers, but by the time Califone's self-titled debut EP was issued in 1998, his Red Red Meat bandmate Tim Hurley was contributing to the sessions, and their second EP, also titled Califone and released in 2000, included contributions from Red Red Meat alumni Hurley, Ben Massarella, and Brian Deck. (Later in 2000, the two EPs were collected on an album titled Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People.) Their first proper album, 2001's Roomsound, was a bracing fusion of roots music and experimental influences, and it fared well with critics; the band spent plenty of time on the road after it came out, headlining small clubs and playing larger venues as an opening act for Wilco. Califone followed it with a remarkable burst of creativity, issuing five albums between 2002 and 2006, including Deceleration One and Deceleration Two (two sets of improvised music created to accompany experimental films), Quicksand/Cradlesnakes (a more confident variant on the themes of their debut LP), Heron Creek Blues (which delivered a more bracing mix of the peaceful and the noisy), and Roots & Crowns, which boasted richer arrangements and production.
After devoting their energies to a variety of side projects (Flecton, the Unseen Hand) and collaborations (the group's core members appeared on albums by Miche Jette, Freakwater, the Fruit Bats, and Iron & Wine), Califone's next album was 2009's All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, which featured music the group created for a film written and directed by Rutili. After another hiatus from the studio, 2013's Stitches was the first Califone album produced outside Chicago, with the Southwestern ambience aided by recording in Texas, Arizona, and California. Rutili and his cohorts maintained a low profile for the next several years, but in 2019, they set out on an intimate concert tour, playing house shows and small venue events, and they wrote and recorded new music for a dance piece choreographed by Robyn Mineko William. The piece, Echo Mine, debuted in December 2019 in Chicago, and Califone's score was released by Jealous Butcher Records in February 2020. ~ Mark Deming