Review Summary: A great mix of American and Mexican music with strong jazz, rock and alt-country influences.
Calexico have always shown a fascination with Mexican culture, even going as far as naming the band after a town on the border. This influence definitely shows in their music too. Calexico mix traditional Mexican music and American folk, jazz, indie rock and country.
Don’t stop reading there! Although Calexico do have roots in country music, it’s mixed in with their other influences so much it‘s nothing like the much hated stereotypical ultra-patriotic country pop crap that gives the genre a bad name. This is alternative country; mixed with other genres so much that it’s barely recognisable.
At a time where there are a million indie bands that all sound identical, it’s refreshing to hear Calexico’s completely unique and style. ‘Feast of Wire’ plays like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western condensed into an folky indie rock format.
Sparse drumming and pedal steel guitar are covered in Mexican mariachi style horns, synths, accordion and strings to create a very densely layered but always atmospheric sound that conjures up images of the desert. At times you can almost feel the heat. While staying atmospheric, it is always accessible with some very strongly written melodies.
There is a huge amount of variation in ‘Feast of Wire’. The first half of the album contains Calexico’s more folky songs. A highlight is ‘Woven Birds’, which while quite simple for Calexico, is a really beautiful song. In ‘Black Heart’ Calexico return to the down-tempo ‘noir’ style of their previous work. The desert is replaced by equally atmospheric images of dark alleyways in a city at night.
The jazz influence becomes more pronounced in the second, more experimental, half of the album, with songs like the bizarre ‘Attack El Robot! Attack!’, a completely indescribable Mexican jazz/electronica hybrid and the equally weird yet catchy Mexican pop of ‘Güero Canelo’ (named after a Mexican restaurant). The most jazzy song is ‘Crumble’, a fantastic Miles Davisesque cool jazz song with a great bass-line.
Despite the variety of genres, the album does not sound at all disjointed because of the good songwriting, and also as it keeps it’s unique Calexico sound throughout. Instead it keeps the album interesting and unpredictable throughout.
Calexico are all excellent musicians. John Convertino’s drumming is deceptively simple, yet helps keep the music exciting while retaining the desert-like atmosphere. Joey Burns is a very good lyricist and while he is not the best singer ever, his voice has a warm tone and is much improved from the semi-whisper he used in previous Calexico albums. Many of his lyrics fit in with the American/Mexican mix of the music, with tales of people trying to cross the border and descriptions of the culture.
There’s not a lot to criticise on ‘Feast of Wire’. Even the shorter instrumentals like ‘Pepita’ and the haunting piano and violin led ‘The Book and the Canal’ which could easily be dismissed as filler are well written and fit the atmosphere well.
Overall, it’s a very good album, and easily among Calexico’s best. Strongly recommended to anyone who wants to listen to something slightly weird and experimental but normal enough for your average indie fan.