I believe this album may have already made the rounds in the blog scene, but it wouldn't be the first time I recommended something everyone already has. In any case, if you've heard about it and are on the fence about picking it up, you can rest easy - it's a solid album.
For some reason, I've always gotten Califone confused in my head with Luna and some other band, which is ridiculous because they are apparently nothing alike and their names are totally different. Anyway, I'm sorry I ignored the band for as long as I did, because they've got a great sound going on. It's subtle but not sparse, and full-sounded without being dense. I see them as a sort of cross between Wilco and Sin Ropas, which is certainly a compliment. The instrumentation is interesting - you'll hear it from the first track: creative percussion, carefully tweaked guitars, and a layer of extra effects, electronic or otherwise, that add a lot of atmosphere to the tracks. The sharp, noodling guitar providing a sort of call-and-response accompaniment to the verse on "Pink and Sour" is a great example - and when it's not there, there are keyboards or electronic samples buzzing around making the music bigger and more complex. The singer has a relaxed drawl that works well with the music, and they are careful to make it work as a harmonic element as well - not like the Beach Boys or anything, mind, the guy's voice just works like a piano, softly accentuating but doing its own thing as well.
Now, I have to say that even if the rest of this album were garbage, I would still be making a single-song post about "Sunday Noises." This is an absolutely stunning track. The guitars sound great, playing around each other over sparse percussion and light organ, while the vocals stick in my head for days, and I can barely tell what the man is saying. It's the best track on the album, in my opinion, but it's not the only good one by far. The opener is great, and "The Eye You Lost In The Crusades" is practically like a Sin Ropas B-side. "A Chinese Actor" shows a heavier side of the band, and they pull it off well, while other tracks make more use of electronic elements or whatever else they feel like doing. It's a versatile album, but the sound is definitely recognizable on every track and even at their most experimental they're still doing solid songs. There are little freakouts here and there, but with an ambitious, contemporary artist you have to expect that (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was studded with them) and anyhow they're perfectly enjoyable.
This is a great album, and worthy of the praise it's receiving in its many reviews. It's mostly pretty laid-back, so it's not for party time, but it could be good for reading time or sexy time. Do yourself a favor and pick it up, or at the very least check out these excellent highlights.