The chief difference is the current absence of the signature SubPop grunge element, and a deeper, more concentrated exploration of terrain visited by Sparklehorse, Spoke-era Calexico and Will Oldham's early Palace Brothers releases. Pretty acoustic guitar work blends organically with layered samples and moody keyboard fills, giving the music an Armory Park ambiance in which old treasures take new life from vital modernity. "St. Martha Let It Fold" and the standout track, "Don't Let Me Die Nervous" ("Weather like the crucifixion/dreaming of a whore") are entirely acoustic. "Dock Boggs," by ironic contrast, is an all-electronic beat riff on the Boggs line, "Got no sugar/got no honey."
Thematically, songwriter and idea-man Tim Rutilli examines his not entirely healthy fixation with guilt, and suggests that retail outlets "File under recovering Catholics." Sleep-talking through his lyrics, he engages the listener in a scavenger hunt, picking up one vivid image at a time, from which meaning dawns only eventually in the chemistry of one's own biases.
The new Califone EP inhabits a dream state of restive pensiveness, agitated and searching, but restrained by uncertainty. To find it, visit Road Cone's website, www.roadcone.com.
Califone opens for unreconstructed angst-punkers Modest Mouse at 8 p.m. Monday, June 5, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.