Stitches, the new album from Califone, touches on all permutable definitions of the word, its episodes of discomfort and healing rendered with exquisite beauty and craftsmanship. Archetypes and mythological figures rub shoulders with bruised civilians throughout this odyssey.
Intimate timbres–garage sale drum machines, slack guitar strings, hushed vocals–offset the album’s cinematic inclinations. The listener moves through a landscape of Old Testament blood and guts, spaghetti Western deserts and Southwestern horizons, zeroing in on emotions and images that cannot be glanced over. Motes of dust dance briefly in afternoon sunlight.
“This is the only record I’ve made in my life where none of the work was done in Chicago,” says Califone’s Tim Rutili. The writing and recording began in Southern California, then continued in Arizona and Texas. “Those dry landscapes and beaches and hills and shopping malls all made it into the music,” he acknowledges. Uniquely homespun elements are interwoven into the songs, too, including sounds Rutili recorded in his backyard during rainfall and while driving in his car.
Brass, pedal steel, and strings color in the edges and outline songs like “Frosted Tips,” “We Are A Payphone,” “Moonbath.brainsalt.a.holy.fool” and “Moses,” yet Stitches is no Ennio Morricone-meets-Cecil B. DeMille pastiche. Gritty electronics, the mesmerizing thrumming of tablas, and eerie keyboards also pepper these ten new selections. A cartographer could spend lifetimes mapping the terrain of Stitches.
Eventually Rutili commenced recording with Griffin Rodriguez in Los Angeles, Michael Krassner in Phoenix, and Craig Ross in Austin, along with a raft of guest musicians. “We treated each song as its own particular planet. Bringing in different people and recording in different places helped bring some tension to the whole thing. I wanted this to be a more schizophrenic record, stitching together conflicting textures and feels.” Rutili’s old Red Red Meat colleague Tim Hurley stayed with him for a few months and they recorded together for the first time since Califone’s eponymous 1998 debut EP.
In some regards, Stitches harks back to those earliest days of Califone. There was more home recording, and musicians came and went as the songs dictated. Yet the ultimate outcome sounds like the work of an artist reborn. Rutili says. “Instead of writing from my balls and brain, this time I wrote from the nerves, skin, and heart.”