(City Slang, out Fri 26 Jan 2018)
Even after churning out nine albums in around 20 years, Tucson-based Calexico still aim for innovation and incorporating new ideas, new voices and new narratives into their sound. Seeking refuge from a world gone bonkers, Joey Burns (lead vocals and guitar) and John Convertino (drums) upped sticks to North Californian and set up shop in a ramshackle but stately house/studio made from shipyard scraps and other bits and bobs. It was here that the reflective but invigorated rhythms of The Thread That Keeps Us were born.
The band pride themselves on distilling world music and folksy Americana into a potent mixture that’s at once reassuring and cautionary. This latest release is no different, with a variety of musicians gathered to contribute their cinco pesos to the mix; as is to be expected for a band which take their name from a town sitting atop the US-Mexican border, Latino rhythms are foregrounded more than any other influence. This is nowhere more apparent than on Flores y Tamales, sung in Spanish by long-time collaborator Jairo Zavala (perhaps better known for his solo work, DePedro), but the jaunty, jagged tempo of Another Space, the staccato clapping on Voices in the Field and the wandering Western-style soundtrack of Thrown to the Wild also recall Hispanic panoramas.
Having said, that there is still plenty of straight-shooting from the indie folk-rock mainstays. Opener End of the World With You and closer Music Box bookend the album with a brace of safe, steady tunes, the first an upbeat and optimistic take on the apocalypse, the latter a restrained acceptance of the state of play. Dotted throughout its 15-track duration are several more urgent, agitated numbers; Bridge to Nowhere and Dead in the Water both employ catchy riffs to cast their hooks firmly into your eardrums, while standout track Eyes Wide Awake sounds like what might happen if The Boxer Rebellion covered Where Is My Mind? (it’s a good thing). These pacier and more powerful songs are offset by plenty of more chilled out fare, with the ponderous Girl in the Forrest and instrumental trio Spinball, Unconditional Waltz and Shortboard slowing things down a mite and turning the record from protest album into sadness-tinged eulogy. Indeed, Burns himself confesses that “Instead of writing straight-up protest songs, I want to tell stories,” and he succeeds as painting himself more raconteur than preacher.
All in all, The Thread That Keeps Us is another typically solid effort from the Arizona-based boys that seeks to push the boundaries of folk rock and address the lamentable situation facing the world right now through Calexico’s trademark blend of influences and styles. While at times it might be guilty of being a little safe and unimaginative, there are enough beguiling riffs and set pieces in there to keep fans coming back for repeat listens – which, as usual with a Calexico record – reward rather than enervate.