Listen Up: Wednesday, October 29, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Calexico

Feast of Wire (Quarterstick Records)

By Matthew Smith

Discerning listeners and the worthwhile music press (they’re over in England) have already picked up on Calexico. Not hard to see why, but it’s still a difficult band to sell or describe, especially to those happily stuck in their musical room of choice and afraid to try something different.

Stylistically, Calexico is as bleak as Springsteen’s Nebraska and as uplifting as good blues. A panoramic photo of a shantytown strip inside the c.d. cover pretty much says it all. The plainest way to describe the band’s sound would be to label it as Americana meets ... mariachi.

But even that’s not exactly fair to the band’s sonics. Like Wilco with its alt-country backbone, Calexico is both adept within the pre-set confines of its Ameriachi genre and unafraid to shatter this makeshift genre’s boundaries.

Joey Burns’ plaintive vocals guide the listener through avant-garde oddities (“Stucco”) straight-up jazz (“Crumble”) and seems-strange-but-works Hispanic-tinged classical chamber music (“The Book and the Canal”). The spaghetti-western soundtrack of “Close Behind” comes off both as ancient as anything related to Sergio Leone and as current as anything with Quentin Tarantino’s name on it.

Together, the production and musicianship is bell-clear and stunning. Melodies crest against contrapuntal melodies, creating mini-marvels of refulgent beauty. Despite (or maybe because of) this, the album remains accessible, even catchy. And as skilled as these musicians are, you never get the sensation that they’re just “showing off.” That’s definitely saying something. Everything, in fact.


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