To promote their sixth proper album, Stitches, Chicago ensemble Califone embarked on a living-room tour, literally playing at people’s houses. It’s a fitting approach, since intimate settings are perfect for the band’s subtly detailed songs and occasional found-object aesthetic (in their previous incarnation as Red Red Meat, percussionist Ben Massarella once used a shoe tumbling in a dryer to keep the beat). It’s not that Califone are quiet—“Frosted Tips,” one of the band’s most raucous offerings, sounds like Spoon at their loosest. But over the past 15 years, plus nearly another decade in his previous outfit, Red Red Meat, bandleader Tim Rutili has refined his penchant for rough-hewn, art-damaged folk tunes that seem effortlessly elaborate and casually meticulous, yet still urgent and dramatic. Rutili’s lyrics, which he delivers in a kind of bluesy Kurt Cobain drawl, come across like enigmatic wisdom and poetic nonsense, all buried in surreptitiously catchy melodies. From the eponymous refrain of leadoff track “Movie Music Kills Like a Kiss” to the boozy waltz of “Magdalene” to the twitchy pulse of “A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust,” Stitches is something of a Califone hit parade, even more so than their exquisite 2009 album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. If you can’t book them to play your living room, listening to Stitches on a well-worn couch is nearly as good.
Playlist picks: “Magdalene,” “Moses,” “Frosted Tips,” “We Are a Payphone”