Review Summary: A chill, Sunday afternoon listen...
After years of transition, Calexico settled into a comfortable alternative rock territory, where Americana, jazzy, folk, reggae and Latino music are interspersed influences coloring the output. The group’s previous effort, Edge of the Sun
was arguably the most straightforward affair whose strengths were mainly the melodic rhythms and Joey Burns’ sweet voice. Past them, there was less to discover than on previous gems such as Feast of Wire
, The Black Light
or even Carried to Dust
(which although steering towards the current style, had an utterly gripping atmosphere). The latest LP, The Thread that Keeps Us
ventures a bit off-road, but it doesn’t really feel like wandering into the unknown.
It’s true that Calexico sound a tad more passionate here and the music is slightly less polished, yet we are offered another jukebox experience that has its ups and downs of course. Highlights include mainly the tense & more diverse tunes. ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ has an anxious drum beat, over which staccato guitar lines punctuate very nicely, while Joey’s concerned vocals build an uncanny vibe. Meanwhile, the hazy ‘Eyes Wide Awake’ brings back some of that cinematic value the band’s music has always had, but got a bit lost in the background lately. The dreamy melody, enhanced by a deep bass line and shrilling slide leads, creates a lovely mid-album peak. Also, Burns switches to great effect from his usual warm croon to a higher pitched lament. Then, there’s the lounge ditty called ‘Girl in the Forest’, where soothing acoustic strums pair with jazzy percussion as well as discreet piano chords. The late night, piano bar feel reflected here musically is a perfect counterpart to the huge sounding, sing-along choruses that have been their focus in recent years. Moreover, ‘Flores y Tamales’, the obligatory Latino cut on each album, is definitely worth mentioning. Jairo Zavala’s beautiful voice plays smoothly alongside cheery brass sections, plus the chorus is downright infectious. I hope the guys will one day record an entire album of Latino tracks, because they always get them right.
The rest of the record is filled with different alternative rock/indie numbers that range from interesting to your average Calexico tracks. It sounds a bit harsh saying it like that, as there is nothing actually bad on The Thread that Keeps Us
. It’s just them playing safe and sweet. ‘End of the World with You’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Falling from the Sky’, boasting a nice groove with beautiful vocals. There’s always an unsettling story behind most of the band’s songs and I still admire how easy they can trick you with their cuteness. The LP was recorded in Los Angeles amid wildfires and the inevitable political/social strife. As a result, the stories about immigrants, criminals, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, ecological disasters and whatnots will always ring a bell when it comes to the US (and other first world countries). ‘Voices in the Field’ is a nice song capable of starting a flash mob in a market place, whereas the lyrics talk about burned homes and losing someone dear to you. Moreover, the delicate, swaying ‘The Town & Miss Lorraine’ is a ‘60s-like pop tune soaked in the protagonist’s nostalgia. I am sure Casey Crescenzo would love this one. Probably the biggest surprise here is the chunky ‘Dead in the Water’, where a cocky guitar riff drowns Joey’s voice. It’s an interesting detour, reminiscing the harder moments on Garden Ruin
, albeit in a more settled way.
In the end, The Thread that Keeps Us
is a good Calexico record, still it doesn’t have outstanding peaks. It flows gently down the stream, yet besides a few memorable moments (all of them coming from the band’s comfort zone) there’s nothing to go crazy about. I am happy they are so consistent and know not to make bad decisions sound-wise. Nevertheless, I would love them going back to more thrilling adventures. I have confidence the group can still take us by surprise, I only hope it will be soon.