Califone

Califone (Road Cone)

At first blush, Tim Rutili's five-song EP about disaster, grace, dumb luck, and fear of machinery might seem like a cynical prayer for peacenik John Lennon: consider the hollow-sounding, resonating piano of the disc's opener, "Electric Fence," and its narrator's vocal resemblance to the Fab Four's often acid-tongued martyr. "Jesus drains electric fences to fill you again," the ex-frontman for Chicago's neoblues outfit Red Red Meat mumbles like a sleepwalker. "Wash in a fountain/Lean into the kill," he moans along to a clattering, industrial backdrop of snail-paced drums and blown fuses. Sparse and impressionistic, the songwriting leaves enough emptiness for the listener to fill in the necessary blanks. And though God is still a concept by which we measure our pain (as Lennon theorized in his primal-screaming Plastic Ono days), Rutili's grim world offers God's children an alternative as comforting as a bug zapper; in all of life's seeming finality, dearest ones, there's likely more room inside a body bag than on any uptown train come Judgment Day.

"St. Martha Let It Fold" transports the listener to a dry, rural, and Depression-era setting complete with rabid coon dogs and a steel guitar -- a fitting place to eulogize the patron saint of housewives and waitresses, oddly enough. Rutili softly rants like a backwoods mystic -- something between William Blake and the Rev. Howard Finster: "Nail gun Marines foaming midget horses/Black smoke threads a straight line from your kidney to your hand/From your hand to kingdom come/Be light enough to ride the backside of a magnet/Let it stay let it stay" Former Meat-mate Tim Hurley (Sin Ropa) plays an apparatus called a iquank that sounds like it might involve rusty bedsprings; at such a soft volume, it's hard to tell. "Beneath the Yachtsman" conjures another ethereal sensation with its heaving pump organs drifting in and out of buzzing electronics set to a slow tribal beat. "Don't Let Me Die Nervous" constitutes the work's most accessible Kodak moment: a solo acoustic number that recalls Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." And the dreamy "Dock Boggs" -- named after an Appalachian banjo player -- uses the lyrical fragments "Got no sugar/Got no honey" like a gospel mantra for an exhausted soul.

Deceptively quiet and elegant, Califone's second offering should appeal to fans of Sparklehorse and Tortoise -- or any recovering Catholic/drug addict who meditates best on a lo-fi, folktronic scrap heap.

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