This record has bothered me. It's been a hair in my craw, for sure. Califone's earlier records were mellow, spaced-out blues that were dosed heavily in atmosphere and blues, and I loved 'em for it. Then, they released Deceleration One, which was cold and beautiful instrumental soundtrack type of music, and it sounded even better. I was hoping this record would be a mixture of noise, beauty, and dementia. Instead, they've offered up a stripped-down country-blues record that sounds a lot like the bands that Rutili and company have been involved with--such as Ugly Casanova, Fruit Bats, and Holopaw.
But Quicksand/Cradlesnakes just bugs me, because it sounds like Califone of old, but yet it doesn't. Tim Rutili's history of making gritty, oil-stained blues-based country and rock is well documented, and while this record follows quite well in the Califone legacy, it's not quite as electronically atmospheric as eariler records. Conflict arises, though, because though it's stripped down, it's no less disturbed than previous records, and it's just as experimental and awkward as anything else he's done. And, on "Vampiring Again," Califone take another turn, and offer up a sad rocking number that could easily pass as a lost Radiohead track., and it sounds great.
If you've ever wondered what Syd Barrett or Skip Spence would sound like in 2003, then Quicksand/Cradlesnakes answers that question. Rutili's lyrics are typically strange--almost contrapuntal--and if you can tell me what "early minor japanese pitcher sidearm slow tic/a wolfish mouth/on a mouse-ish face lady from shanghai 3rd man" (from "your golden ass") means, please do, as I'd like to know. Because the lyrics are of such an oblique nature that you simply have to accept them as part of the songscape.
Califone have always offered challenges when it comes to their music, and this stripped-down, bare-bones record, while shocking to hear, simply continues their tradition of offering something new and different with each record. It's certainly a grower, but I guess that, in the end, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes isn't that different of a Califone record. It's a grower, a bit of a shocker, and ultimately impressive. Mission accomplished, then?