Crawling like a sunrise across a parched desert landscape, Califone's rootsy folk-blues has all the spacious grace of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western soundtrack, ushered into the 21st century by the background clatter and thrum of electronics. Forged from the ashes of Red Red Meat, the Chicago quartet continues to broaden its approach, which crashes the wide-open, rustic lope of Leadbelly's country-blues into the burbling ambient tones of Brian Eno. Far from the expected wreckage, the resulting sound tastefully conjures a new urban blues, synthesizing a steady, low-key electro beat, washes of humming textures, and traditional American music. The band's new album, King Heron Blues, covers even more ground, following its usual aesthetic on the spare "Wingbone," but pushing further into experimental territory with "Sawtooth Sung a Cheater's Song," which mines Eastern modal tones for a world music feel, and the title track, whose sputtering guitar skronk, blooming dissonance and off-kilter rhythms marry the churning buzz of the Velvet Underground's "European Son" to Captain Beefheart's discordant blues.
Gates is the former leader of indie folk-poppers The Spinanes, whose new solo work mines similar territory of scarred beauty.