Monday, September 8, 2008

Review: Calexico - Carried To Dust (* * * * 1/2)

After releasing what most critics considered a slight "misstep" with Garden Ruin, Calexico are back to their old selves (at least that's what I'm told), creating another collection of slightly odd, Latin-influenced, indie folk music. As a relatively new Calexico listener, I can't very well compare Carried To Dust with their older material, but I can appreciate the stunning quality of this album.

I think it's safe to say that no one does it quite like Calexico. Seamlessly blending a variety of musical styles, languages, and song formats, you never know quite what to expect from track to track, though their sound is instantly recognizable. The band is comprised primarily of two members who truly form the backbone of the band. Other instruments come and go throughout the album, but the strength lies in guitarist Joey Burns' soft-yet-menacing voice and John Convertino's talented drumming.

The album starts with three strong tracks (especially "Victor Jara's hands") before pausing for a brief instrumental interlude. Unlike some bands, the instrumental tracks (three of them) are used to great effect, expanding the scope of the album without disrupting the flow. The album takes a bit of a detour on the Spanish "Inspiracion," a song that I find a little unnecessary, but it's one of Calexico's staples and it acts as a sort of intermission between the two halves of Carried To Dust. The following two tracks are arguably the record's strongest. "The House of Valparaiso," a smooth, groovy song featuring Sam Beam, and "Slowness," a beautiful duet with Pieta Brown. Calexico has always worked well with others, but here their collaborations steal the show. After that, it's mostly business as usual (good business, that is) before the slow, shimmering "Contention City"

I could go on about all of my favorite tunes, but I want to focus on the true strengths of Carried To Dust, which are variation and consistency enough to make an interesting, but focused album. Not many bands succeed in finding the balance between their wealth of ideas and the need to make a cohesive record, but Calexico have mastered the art. The pace changes just enough, the style shifts subtly, and the musicianship is excellent. Calexico provide a set of 15 tracks meant to be heard as a whole, yet enjoyable in pieces; short stories ranging in topic from political activism to lost love. While not every song is a tremendous success, no moment feels wasted or forced.

Carried To dust combines sounds from both sides of the Southern border in a slightly experimental and thoroughly enjoyable blend.

Favorite Tracks: "Victor Jara's Hands," "The House of Valparaiso," "Slowness"


Ash said...

How do you find the time to write such wonderful music reviews as frequently as you do?

Chris N said...

I'm not really sure. Some late nights, some lunch time at work, whenever.