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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Calexico
Feast of Wire
Quarterstick Records

Rating: 8/10 ?


October 1, 2004
Calexico is a town near the border of California and Mexico, just a few miles north of its southern counterpart, Mexicali. According to its official website, it is "the most progressive and economically dynamic city in Imperial County." It is situated in the desert, which means that it's surrounded by a landscape that takes on awe inspiring and unworldly dimensions. You feel really small when you stand outside in the American Southwest's deserts and look around at the incredible expanses that surround you. It is such a hostile climate but so alive and so beautiful. Often, like right now, sitting in my apartment in Los Angeles, with three helicopters circling overhead, my music turned up in an attempt to drown out their drones and surely bothering my downstairs neighbors, I want to escape to the silence and strangeness of the desert. If you've been there, you want to go back. If you haven't been to the deserts of the Southwest, now is the perfect time to make your way there. Calexico's Feast of Wire provides the perfect soundtrack for such an experience.

Calexico the band, consisting of mainstays Joey Burns (vocals, guitar and many other instruments) and John Convertino (drums and percussion) among a revolving cast of players, hails from Tucson, another desert burg that is central to the sounds of the Southwest which they so gracefully master. The duo have had their hands in countless other musical endeavors- Giant Sand, Neko Case and Richard Buckner, to name a few- along with the release of several full lengths, a remix EP and various tour-only efforts of their own. The music that they play mixes current and forgotten styles with its core of Southwestern music, a melding of Mexican instrumentation, cowboy ballads and eerie desert soundscapes. There is no pandering or sense of inept appropriation here- when you listen to a Calexico record it is evident that they truly love and respect the music that they play, in addition to being masters at it. Feast of Wire is both a continuation and a subtle leap forward in their art.

The album begins with a typically wonderful Calexico-style waltz that leaps forward under an accordion melody. Joey Burns' voice has never sounded more soulful or beautiful as he veers from poetic to Southwestern storytelling, as in the playful ditty "Across the Wire." Of course there are several instrumentals here, all in top form, including the mysterious "Pepita" and the spaghetti Western sounds of "Close Behind." "Crumble" finds the band launching into straight up jazz, of course with the cactus tinges that permeate all their music. Other standouts are the low-fi folk of "Not Even Stevie Nicks" and the weird electro-waltz instrumental of "Attack El Robot! Attack!" The instrumentation is lush throughout the album, as strings swell up here, a full mariachi band (featuring the fantastic trumpet playing of Jacob Valenzuela) launches a joyous assault there. But even when the songs are laid down and stripped to the bone, with simple percussion and guitar vapors floating along under a wave of strings, as in "Whipping the Horse's Eyes," there is a fullness that goes beyond the amount of sonic vibrations that you actually register.

When you live in a city and you have access to the great outdoors, it's funny how little you actually use it. It's also funny how you tend to romanticize it, whether it's the desert of the Southwest, the tundra of Alaska or the smoky forests of West Virginia. But there is something romantic about it all and Calexico look at their neck of the woods, or lack of, and love their land, are fully intent on romancing it. Their music is a love affair with life and music and the sun-baked expanses where, if you look a bit closer, you will see just how alive it all is.

Reviewed by Jonah Flicker
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.

See other reviews by Jonah Flicker

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