Calexico's sound inhabits the frontier badlands of the American Southwest, a cinematic multi-instumental brew that takes in jazz, alt-country, Mariachi, folk and electronics. It's a widescreen affair, a mixture of traditional rootsy Americana ('Quattro') and brooding instrumental mood pieces ('Pepita', 'Across The Wire') that evoke rust and dust choked border towns. Dubbed 'desert-rock' by some, don't be turned off by the Tex-Mex conceit, this is a wonderful album overflowing with ideas; a real grower that rewards repeated listens.
The filmic quality to the music is enhanced by anecdotal and scene-setting lyrics, not to mention Enio Morricone-schooled atmospherics. But they can do breezy west coast pop as well ('Not Even Stevie Nicks') and desert trip-hop: 'Black Heart' sounds like Portishead relocated from the Somerset coast to Death Valley. There are also head-nodding electro numbers replete with Mexican brass ('Attack El Robot! Attack!', 'Guero Canelo'), but the circling buzzards are never far away. 'Close Behind' - as the title suggests - is a galloping chase sequence, while 'Woven Birds' is shivery and spectral, redolent of the desolate desert night. The mescaline-addled spookiness of tracks like this and 'No Doze' recall the bloody coming of age of Cormac McCarthy's characters. 'Crumble', on the other hand, is the kind of bebop jazz you could imagine Sal Paradise and Dean Moriaty digging in On The Road.
Moreover, some of the best tracks are saved for bonus material, 'Corona' being an all-out jam in which alt-country and Mexican jazz spectaculary colide. If I was to criticise, I would say that Joey Burns' vocal isn't the strongest, and that the stylistic contrivances tend to negate greater emotional involvement in the music. But these are niggles, there is so much to enjoy in this rich and diverse album. If you like this, you might like Rock Central Plaza's 'Are We Not Horses', or perhaps 'Micah P Hinson and the Gospel of Progress'.