Calexico – Garden Ruin

Calexico - Garden RuinI only got into Calexico by accident. I saw John Cale do an acoutic version of “The Ballad Of Cable Hogue” on Later.. With Jools Holland. Couple of weeks later I read in NME that a band called Calexico have a single out called “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”. Ah, same song I think, so I buy the album. Whoops. This was a totally different song, but still a good one. Calexico have released numerous albums, that combine a windswept country sound combined with latin rhythms and mariachi style instruments (Calexico is a town on the Mexico/US border). Their previous album “A Feast Of Wire” is one of my favourites and reckoned to be one of their best. I saw them live with a mate, who hadn’t heard their music, and we were both blown away. But when this album was announced, the rumours were that the band were abandoning their trademark sound and making an album that was more of a country rock album than their own unique sound. This has turned out to be true, but in a good way.

One of the most obvious differences is the lightening in tone, in the songs and instruments and also the fact that there are no instrumentals. The reliance on the more jazzy, percussion style on John Convertino has been toned down so the songs are a lot more straightforward. “Cruel” reminds me of Hope Of The State’s “Black Amnesia” before Joey Burns’ voice roots the song in the desert. The drums are forceful and the brass section is easy on the ears. It’s easily the most accessible thing Calexico have done in a while, but it’s still a great song. The quiet and reflective “Yours and Mine” sounds like classic Calexico, an atmospheric tune with whispered vocals and distant sounds. “Letter To Bowie Knife” is pretty startling with it’s roaring electric guitar and driven drumming. It sounds like classic Bruce Springsteen in places, especially with the harmonies in the chorus. “Smash” is a change of pace and it again shows Calexico’s mastery of dynamics, making the drums sound distant almost like thunder over the plains.

The highlight is undoubtably the six-minute long “All Sytems Red”, which starts slow and melancholy (“nothing changes here/and nothing blooms”), but builds to a wonderful climax with an U2-like guitars and just waves of sound that build and build. It’s a sensational song, that sounds nothing like the usual Calexico of previous albums. But it’s still Calexico. This is a brave album for a band, to change their signature MO but still remain the same. It’s gonna be fun to see where the go from here.

Calexico – Cruel:

 

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