If you asked me to name my least favourite music genre I’d have shouted “country” before you’d finished the question. That being said, when I think of country I think of Shania Twain and what probably isn’t considered proper country at all. What I’ve heard has always sounded a bit too soft production-wise for my rock-damaged ears.
I’m not sure why, but I always got it in my head that Calexico were a country band. Upon reading their Wikipedia entry however, which says “their musical style is influenced by traditional Latin sounds of mariachi, conjunto, cumbia, tejano, as well as country, jazz, and post-rock”, my interest was piqued.
Kicking things off with the pleasant country rock of End of the World With You that warms you up to their sound, The Thread That Keeps Us bleeds confidence from the get-go. The single Voices in the Field sounds like the lovechild of James Taylor and the more mellow moments of Alice in Chains, and it was right there that I fell in love with the record. It muddles with so many genres and sure there is a country twang that runs through it all, but what really comes across is the loving way in which each one of these songs has been carefully arranged. The Town & Miss Lorraine wouldn’t sound out of place playing in Lou’s Cafe when Marty arrives in 1955 in Back To The Future. Then the driving hit of acoustic guitar and drums on Bridge To Nowhere had my head bobbing before the flowering of the delicious finale. Flores y Tamales meanwhile sports an accordion and that oh-so-familiar Latin high-pitched brass flavour.
With so much going on there’s always potential for things to become a mixed bag or too inconsistent, but the styles are so seamlessly woven together and the album so thoughtfully structured that it all flows wonderfully. Sometimes there’s a short instrumental that helps to give the album a moment to catch its breath, or subtly shift the tone, in preparation for the next track.
As well as playing around with a variety of styles, what’s clear is that Calexico are constantly aiming to create new ideas and bring a freshness to everything they produce. Their overall sound is often familiar but never quite something you’ve heard before. I also enjoyed the little snippets of chaos going on throughout some of the songs. For example, under the main rhythm often there are wailing instruments drenched in reverb deep in the back of the left or right channel.
For me, the highlight of the album is Another Space which is a fantastic funk stomp jammed full of whirling organ, howling brass and crunchy squeals, all built around a catchy chorus that is destined to be a future earworm.
The Thread That Keeps Us is out on 26th January via Anti-Records.