Review: California Smile | Roof Came Off House

California Smile's magnificent controlled chaos
By CHRIS CONTI  |  September 8, 2009

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IT'S ALL A BLUR Images from the Cali Smile experience.

"There isn't any presupposed concept to our music," says California Smile keyboardist/piano man Victor Mansella while promoting the band's upcoming sophomore release Roof Came Off House (Limbus Infantus). "The music is intended to take the listener on his or her own adventure."

The Providence-via-Cranston instrumental collective quickly gained a cult fanbase following their 2008 full-length debut A Secret Message From Your Teeth, a collage of challenging arrangements that encompass a King Crimson-like aural spectrum. From the cavernous, apocalyptic soundtracks "Erecting Nero Mountain" and "The Motherbrain" to the jazzy, quiet storm of the 10-minute closing cut "Pregnant by the Wind" and live favorite "Join Me In This Pot of Gold," Secret Message was a densely-layered and, according to Mansella, painstakingly composed record.

The new EP (six tracks in 30 minutes) takes a more atmospheric and less bombastic approach for the most part, with the core sextet getting some orchestral assistance from a troupe of local players, including Zox/Cowgirl violinist Spencer Swain. Roof Came Off House contains more of the technically-proficient controlled chaos, further unleashed by drummer Michael Murphy. Mansella mixed and produced both Cali Smile releases, and while he developed a "more solid grasp of the mixing and recording process," the new songs presented plenty of challenges.

"Recording Roof was not nearly as frustrating as our first record, but it was certainly just as time-consuming, even though there is only half as much music," Mansella recalled. "The arrangements are far more developed. Some consist of up to 75 simultaneous tracks, overdubbed every step of the way.

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"We're now focusing more on harmonically rich arrangements, much of it involving writing and arranging woodwind, brass, and vibraphone parts to complement the existing music, staying up at our rehearsal space until 6 am running on caffeine and alcohol. But it most definitely paid off."

That big payoff will be on display this weekend at Firehouse 13 when Cali Smile throw a CD release party with help from Irepress and Herra Terra, along with Finnegan's 10-in-1 Circus Sideshow to help fully skewer the senses. New songs such as "The Man Who Claps the Fastest," "To Hares to Air With," and "The Maple Shittean" will invariably bloom in the live setting, the preferred method of delivery for Mansella and his mates, who range in age from 18 to 28. The band only played at Rhody and southern Mass venues while promoting their acclaimed '08 debut (understandable, seeing that 18-year-old bassist Jake Lafond just graduated high school), but plan to cover the region this time around.

Twenty-third century stoner jam band? Acid-laced piano-rock? Two albums inn and I still don't know what the hell to call it, but I do know the melodic, genre-slashing hybrid that is California Smile is best appreciated onstage.

"Recording is fun, but nothing beats the energy of a good live performance," Mansella said.

  Topics: New England Music News , Michael Murphy, King Crimson, California Smile,  More more >
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