1997 Swan Song from Tim Rutili's Pre-Califone Project Available on Double Vinyl with 6 Bonus Tracks!
In Chicago in the early ‘90s, combustable rock outfit Friends of Betty, led by songwriter Tim Rutili, collapsed and reconfigured itself as Red Red Meat. Over the course of its career, Red Red Meat would twist and expand its sound on a series of records for Sub Pop, eventually morphing into experimental outfit Califone. With their final album, Red Red Meat completed a journey, concluding a study in evolution, moving from their shambolic blues rock roots into an experimental combo capable of synthesizing a field recording with a Can aesthetic. Yet, There's a Star Above the Manger Tonight is the sound of a band blooming even as it folds in – finding Rutilli, Brian Deck, Ben Massarella, and Tim Hurley incorporating samplers, loops, and computers, marrying disparate threads of hip-hop, Krautrock, and dub to "folk forms, stomp and blues business."
"As a single piece of music it was kind of a real demonstration of where Red Red Meat was at the time, crossed with everything that we were playing around with that would eventually become Califone," Massarella says. Self-produced in DIY fashion in the back room of BJ's Truck Stop, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago near the seedy stockyards, where the band's members did double time washing out meat trucks, the record features moments of sublime beauty welded to abrasive noise.
Brian Deck – who would go on to helm records by the Fruit Bats, Iron and Wine, and Modest Mouse – crafted the record with borrowed gear and a DIY mentality, referring to two very different albums each morning – Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life and Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets. "I personally was trying to do things that I heard on those two records," Deck says. "The sophistication of the Steven Wonder record was all in the musicianship and musicality – the recordings were very present and raw. I loved that dichotomy, and I was going for that. Which is a good thing, because I didn't have the facility to go for anything else." Songs like opening salvo "Sulfur" were built from the ground up, assembled piece-by-piece. Ultimately, the record closed the book on Red Red Meat, but it introduced ideas that Rutili, Deck, Masserella, and Hurley would explore collectively and separately on future releases.
Conceived loosely as a "Christmas record" the album ended up more "a record about all time occurring simultaneously," Rutili says. And in the records grooves it does – referencing Red Red Meat's roots and forecasting the future efforts records the band members would explore as Califone, Loftus, and Sin Ropas.