Release Date: Sep 9, 2008
Record label: Quarterstick
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
The thoughtful, whispery pop Calexico dove into on Garden Ruin also gets its due here; unlike that album, which was so gentle that its charms took awhile to unfold, Carried to Dust's quiet moments are often just as vivid as the flamboyant ones. "House of Valparaiso," which features Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, "Writer's Minor Holiday"'s twangy pop, and "Slowness"'s sweetly ambling country duet sound even brighter next to "Inspiracion"'s en Espanol lovelorn drama or "Two Silver Trees"' gorgeously shadowy fusion of Latin and Asian elements -- Calexico is one of a handful of groups that would think of combining Chinese guizeng, Venezuelan cuatro, and omnichord on one song and make all those sounds work together in a completely natural way. Carried to Dust also has subtler moments of innovation, such as "Bend to the Road," which expands on Calexico's southwestern jazz leanings, and "Contention City," a collaboration with Tortoise's Doug McCombs that spins toy piano and electronics into a haunting finale.
A welcome return to the musical borderlandsDrummer John Convertino inspires a bit of déjà vu with the rim clicks that open Carried to Dust’s lead track “Victor Jara’s Hands.” They recall the beginning of “Quattro (World Drifts In),” the second track on Calexico’s 2003 masterwork Feast of Wire. Garden Ruin, the album between Feast of Wire and Carried to Dustseemed to shrink the space Calexico occupied. It was intimate; an indoors album.
After a flat-footed assault on mainstream indie rock on 2006's Garden Ruin, Calexico's dusty vistas make a welcome comeback. Cue florid mariarchi horns and whispery vocals ruminating on drives down that endless highway. From opener 'Victor Jara's Hand' to the sunset afterglow of 'Contention City', it's an evocative soundscape. .
After years spent banging around the Giant Sand and Bonnaroo milieu, the members of Calexico are finally achieving some level of visibility in the larger indie-rock community. The band reached maximum exposure in 2007 with a smattering of appearances as the house band for the I’m Not There soundtrack. Now, Calexico has released a return to form after the straight rock of 2006’s Garden Ruin with Carried to Dust, an album that finds the band adhering to the Southwest vibes (and genres) of its earlier releases.
Calexico have crafted a horn, maraca and possibly tumbleweed-laden sound almost geographically located in Calexico, a town near the Californian-Mexican border. They cast a critical eye over their homeland, but from the storytelling angle of a striking writer who uses his free time to travel around the US. Victor Jara's Hands tells of a murdered political activist, subtly highlighting American imperialism.
Progressing with the pop makeover process Calexico began with 2005's In The Reins collabo with Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Carried To Dust finds the Tucson twosome of Joey Burns and John Convertino getting softer and slicker rather than smarter. In addition to further simplifying their song structures, they've ramped up the repetition of lyrics and musical motifs while singing in hushed tones on this sleep-inducing set of Southwestern lullabies. Nothing terribly new or unexpected to report, just a more direct way of expressing not so adventurous ideas.
While conventional wisdom holds that Calexico fuses mariachi and rock music, the band has always accomplished more than that. Core members Joey Burns (vocals, guitars) and John Convertino (drums) can also kick up honky-tonk sawdust, wring tears with a folk ballad or make dim lights flicker with noir-jazz ambience, and they generally sound best when they’re doing more than one thing at a time. They went wrong on 2006’s Garden Ruin by trying to boil things down to protest lyrics and big rock moves; the result was as boring as a John Mellencamp record.
Calexico has always been best when it slips the leash. The group’s best albums are studded with brief, weird interludes of dub, jazz and unclassifiable experiment. John Convertino and Joey Burns’ most hummable songs contain oblique but jarring imagery. The weakest Calexico records – still pretty good – hew too closely to the middle of the road, populated solely with lapidary-polished cuts of AAA-friendly melody.
For 10 years now, Calexico has branded its dusky, Southwestern balladry with mariachi horns and rhythms, weaving an intensely intricate array of styles into a familiar whole. The Tucson, Ariz. , troupe's sixth proper LP ranks among its best, setting itself in line with 2003's exceptional Feast of Wire.