Some people who have written about the brand new Calexico record refer to it as a “return to form” - which suggests that 2006’s Garden Ruin was some sort of sub-par effort. Though I’d agree it wasn’t their finest moment, Garden Ruin was an ambitious, rewarding attempt to shed some of the Southwestern flavor that had characterized so much of their early work in favor of a more directly indie-rock sound. And in that sense it was a success, though perhaps many longtime fans were disappointed that the band would shy away from what most considered their biggest strength. Garden Ruin seemed to polarize fans despite being, arguably, their most traditionally accessible album (you could easily argue that the In The Reins EP recorded with Sam Beam on lead vocals was more so).
Carried To Dust is that brand new record, and will be released this week on Quarterstick Records. It finds the band returning to the regionality of their earlier work while keeping remnants of the more polished moments of Garden Ruin. Gone are the songs driven by surging electric guitar like “Deep Down”, and in their place are a set that leans heavily towards slow to mid-tempo numbers that make the record a very cohesive, consistent listen. Any fan of Calexico, those that go back to early classics like The Black Light, or those recent converts from the In The Reins/Garden Ruin days, will find plenty to dig into here.
I know it may be corny, and Adam Duritz is about as big a wuss (douche bag) as there is in the adult oriented pop-rock world, but there is a line from the Counting Crows song “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” that Calexico’s best music always makes me think of. In the song Duritz throws the phrase “it’s just a brief interruption of the swirling dust sparkle jet stream” together - and if the man is remembered for nothing else it should be this line (too bad for him he’ll be remembered for lots of terrible things, like dreads and Shrek songs). And it’s a line, whose nonlinear piecing together of several independently evocative words conjures up, to me, the type of dusty, big desert sky sound that Calexico does when they are on their game. Carried To Dust is full of those moments. That wasn’t a very well written paragraph, I know, but hopefully you got what I meant.
Carried To Dust opens with a terrific run of songs - “Victor Jara’s Hands”, “Two Silver Trees”, and “The News About William” - which all possess subtle hints of the band’s Tex Mex roots while sounding nothing if not contemporary. “Writer’s Minor Holiday”, with its heavily reverbed harmony vocals and head-swaying rhythm, has more of an indie-pop feel to it than any other track, and the disarming “Slowness”, featuring a female harmony singer whose name I’m not aware of, is among the band’s most beautiful compositions. As they did prominently their career high point Feast Of Wire, the band interjects instrumentals throughout the record that reflect their Southwest roots. While Garden Ruin was too good a record to consider Carried To Dust a return to form, the new record is certainly among the band’s finest work - a welcome return for fans, and a good place to start if you’re new to them.
MP3 :: Two Silver Trees
(from Carried To Dust. Buy here)