A review of Calexico’s Carried to Dust (2008)
And while I’m busy clearing the backlog of “CDs I must mention on my blog,” here’s a definite contender for 2008 Record of the Year. Calexico is an Arizona-based outfit that makes an interesting blend of indie pop and Mariachi/Rock en Espanol, full of deep rumbling basses, accordions and nimble, brushed drums. For me, this music evokes the desert somehow. (I can say this with slightly more legitimacy than someone who’s just seen too many spaghetti westerns because I actually grew up in a desert country. But that’s not strictly relevant.) I can imagine driving on a night-time desert highway and be carried by these sounds. They have a certain intimacy that makes you want to focus entirely on the music. Another observation – for me at least – is how similar parts of Carried to Dust are to some of Chris Isaak’s post-surf rock, music that should be talked about much more than it is (sadly).
There’s been much to love in Calexico’s music for many years. I’m especially fond of the Mexican influences – Calexico’s embrance of another culture’s music is a much-needed widening of indie’s prevailing young-white-man aesthetic (these days, the young men don’t even seem particularly angry). At times, Calexico sound delightfully like a less rocky Los Lobos. Is this as ‘authentic’ as Los Lobos, who have an impeccable East LA pedigree? When you listen to Calexico’s incredibly funky electronica/ranchero “Inspiración,” does it matter?
There’s a theme in Calexico of embracing other cultures and actively adding to the ‘Americana’ song book. Joey Burns, one half of Calexico, has recently produced L’Entredeux by Marianne Dissard, a French singer-songwriter based in Tucson. Unlike anything I’ve heard come out of Quebec (which, you’d think, would produce all kinds of North-American-cool pop music sung in French, but doesn’t, presumably because it’s trying to be Frencher than anyone in France), this is an excellent blend of French chanson with Americana, conveying the sort of low-key sophistication that makes it perfect for a dinner party with smart people who’d like some continental flavour but don’t want to risk the new album by Carla Bruni.
I think Calexico is one excellent way for indie to stop gazing at its own shoes and start to take notice of what else there is in the world. Joey Burns and John Convertino discovered that the world is right on their doorstep. 66 miles due South, to be exact.
On an irrelevant but related side note, Ready Made  magazine’s October/November 2008 has a whole page about how Calexico made its own drum brushes out of bamboo. Unfortunately, the piece doesn’t seem to be online. The magazine’s not worth buying, but the article is worth checking out as an example of truly superb spin doctoring. Getting your act’s do-it-yourself project mentioned in a do-it-yourselfer magazine to coincide with your record release is completely awesome.