calexico – garden ruin

a self-contained capsule of the early 1970s? there are a few elements of american folk and rock from the era. don’t get me wrong, i think they have a characteristic sound outside any time period, which blends a lot of influences that no other contemporary band really does. yet, this is another band that i’ve always wanted to like; more than i actually do. i try and try.

an album like this summarises it well. while there are elements that resemble others i love with all my heart, the way they come together generally don’t coalesce into a form that strikes me. this seems a little odd, in addition, since i can understand why people do like them so much.

i’ve concluded that, for myself, the qualities of the singers in bands with vocalists (as distinct from a set of criteria for instrumental music) often make the difference. i’m not saying joey burns has a crap voice, but it doesn’t make it there for me. sometimes it fits the songs perfectly, such as smash and deep down. i also know that calexico tend to be better known for their lyricless music anyway.

and while i think the first part of the album is a bit too neutral, the second-to-last song nom de plume is fascinating and a little amusing being sung in french; for this it introduces an unexpected experience that i enjoyed. and last song, all systems red, is the most excellent thing across the span. it begins quietly enough with just acoustic guitars, but picks up when the drums and electric guitar come in. in a short space, it builds to a great rock noise that carries it out. it’s a well-placed conclusion, but would perhaps have benefited the album if they started somewhere more like it.

so should i conclude that it’s just this album? maybe i need to revisit a few more calexico towns before i say i’ll never go back.

it’s just your heart that’s breaking without choice

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