For Carried To Dust, Calexico returned to basics, something of a U-turn from the bigger sound the band looked to achieve on 2006’s Garden Ruin. Here the individual connections are more apparent, with Joey Burns and John Convertino emerging once again as individual voices.
This is immediately and thrillingly brought to life in the ‘sunrise’ moment of Victor Jara’s Hands, where a muted beginning peeks above the horizon with the entry of soft trumpets, proclaiming a rousing chorus. This song has its roots on tour, and is based on a story Burns and Convertino discovered as they played in Chile – Victor Jara a singer, theatre director and ultimately victim of the Chilean coup in 1973. The band’s tale is a moving one.
It provides immediate evidence that political thoughts continue to occupy their minds – as was the case on Garden Ruin, as they dealt with a hatred of George Bush. Happily this time around the lyrical writing feels more controlled and aware of its surroundings.
These subtleties are evident elsewhere, from the brief but keenly felt instrumental Falling From Sleeves to the quiet vocal to and fro in House Of Valparaiso, evocative in its imagery of the harbour.
Two tracks at the centre of Carried To Dust are an indication of the range of emotions Calexico are capable of reaching. Man Made Lake begins ominously with a hollow drum, the vocal eventually twisting with a tortured electric guitar line. By contrast the trumpets dressing Inspiración are wonderfully languid, the rhythm shimmying lightly.
The album’s emotive centre is the softly brushed Slowness, an evocation of the dusty plains, capturing the wide open terrain in which Burns and Convertino live, made evident by the distantly wailing slide guitars.
As ever with Calexico, the instrumental colours are keenly attained, and often exquisite. The brushed piano octaves in the upper treble of the humid Two Silver Trees, their economic yet vivid use of the Mariachi trumpets and the brushed cymbals ushering in the atmospheric Bend In The Road.
It seems a return to first principles has done Calexico good, and returned their music to a raw emotional state. They continue to capture the tension between their homeland and Mexico, perhaps the only band to do so in such pictorial fashion.