Saturday, 18 October 2008

Calexico-'Carried To Dust' (City Slang 8/9/08)

From the opening of 'Victor Jara's Hands' you can hear the border town vibes that are threaded through this album like chillis through a burrito. Calexico definitely represent the town they take their name from. The song sets the town for the rest of 'Carried To Dust', full of South American chord progressions and the flaring of mariachi horns. Concerning the murdered political activist Victor Jara, the guitars chug offbeat, and the Spanish vocals intone passion, even if my year of language classes won't help any understanding.

'Two Silver Trees' acts all coy and downbeat, a picked melody, and low murmured vocals adding to a hint of menace. Then an almost 80s style chorus hits, and in its plinks of piano the tension is released in pop burbles.

The problem with too much of 'Carried To Dust'' is that it drifts past, like a tumbleweed. 'Writer's Minor Holiday' and 'House Of Valparaiso' float along like leaves on a river, and just as inconsequentially. Their hushed vibes do nothing to intrigue the listener, and you start to wonder what's on TV.

'Man Made Lake' grabs the ears back in, starting on a sparkling xylophone before epic guitars build it up, crescendoing outwards. The ambiance is perfect, empty towns conjured up out of the ether. Tones are varied on next track 'Inspiracion', where the mariachi horns return. A Mexican style piece, it sounds a lot like 'Latin Simone (¿Qué Pasa Contigo?)' from the first Gorillaz album. This is not a bad thing.

'Slowness' ruins all the good work. You could argue these languid songs have a gentle beauty. And in places they do. But before long your mind is wandering in other fields than the ones they try to evoke. Perhaps a symptom of attention deficit disorder, or perhaps a symptom of a lack of ideas. 'El Gotillo' sounds a little bit Devotcka, and the mix of whistling and Johnny Cash guitars creates a kaleidoscopic desert. The instrumental is one of the highlights of the album.

The flaw with 'Carried To Dust' is that too often it is happy to coast. There are notable exceptions, that manage to raise the listener out of his stupor with creative instrumentation and composition. The songs like 'Red Blooms' appear, and sound like a fade out that never fades, such is the torturous pace. For atmosphere the album is hard to beat, so soaked in Americana vibes is it. For something to get your pulse racing, and fingers tapping, the excitements are few and far between.

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