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7/10. Spaghetti westerns and pulp fiction,
This review is from: The Black Light (Audio CD)
Calexico's second album is a sprawling, doom-laden and cinematic work that draws heavily on latin jazz, mariachi, country and gypsy folk. Typically rich in the kind of malevolent desert imagery and border country narratives that suggest the novels of Cormac McCarthy, `Black Light' explores territory that is more fully realised in their later work, particularly `Feat of Wire'. Another widescreen production, Calexico are seemingly the natural heirs to Ennio Morricone's wild west atmospherics (check out `Minas De Cobre').
From the opener `Gypsy's Curse', `Black Light' is heavy on nocturnal ambience, rendered in sometimes lengthy instrumental passages, but is lighter on songwriting. Calexico have never been great songwriters, partly because their thematic concerns seem more theatrical than heartfelt. Joey Burns also has a rather mild voice that sometimes undermines, rather than strengthens the credibility of their image-rich soundscapes. That's not to say none of the vocal tracks work - not at all, `Where Water Flows' features a nice interplay between Burns' verses and a creepy plucked guitar melody augmented with xylophone. However, it is worth noting for newcomers to Calexico that Feast of Wire is their most fully realised work in terms of both songcraft and sonic experimentation.
`Black Light' suffers a bit when listened to as a whole as it's mood is so relentlessly stark; even dirge-like and funereal. From the whispered vocals and spidery formlessness of the title track, the middle section sags and causes the listener's attention to wander. While it is all quite cohesive, it rather lacks the surprises and jolting shifts of mood of later albums. Nevertheless, taken in isolation there are some fine instrumental works that would not look out of place on a David Lynch of Quentin Tarantino soundtrack (not least the surf guitar on the opening track). In other places the gypsy textures (e.g., `Sideshow') can come off a little gallic to the untrained ear - think `Amelie' - but that isn't necessarily a bad thing!