Americana mainstays’ 10th album offers another supremely effective panoply of tempos, textures and colours that shows they’ve never sounded better
Over the last two decades, Calexico have become something of a byword for consistency, reliability and all-round musical excellence, each of their albums having an immediately recognisable identity and dependable sound. It’s therefore little surprise that their 10th album, El Mirador, continues this trend.
The band’s creative axis of Joey Burns and John Convertino may now both live in other US states but for this album, they returned to their previous base in Tucson, Arizona at the studio of long time band keyboardist Sergio Mendoza and its influence, close to the Mexican border, looms larger arguably than ever before. It never fully went away, but essentially, brass is back in a big way on El Mirador and is all the better for it.
The first two tracks are a microcosm of the album in a sense, reflecting the ongoing duality of the band. The title track immediately transports us to the desert, Burns switching between English and Spanish to conjure a colourful musical landscape that occasionally recalls Tom Waits. Harness The Wind which follows, is much lighter, guitar-focused and sweetly melodic. This opening pair may showcase two familiar sides to the band but they’re as appealing as ever.
Two cumbia-referencing songs arrive next. Cumbia Peninsula is a flawless fusion of styles, all outward reaching musicality and accentuated brass motifs while Cumbia Del Polvo flexes and flips even further, proudly displaying its Latin influences on its sleeve. In between comes Then You Might See, offering a journey from shadowy beginnings to conspicuous, melodic smoothness.
The El Burro Song has a fiery, extroverted vibrancy that serves as a veritable musical shot to the arm and may be their most exuberant and celebratory moment since one of their earlier career highpoints, Crystal Frontier. El Paso is equally cinematic, albeit in a more subdued sense, painting a scene where scorpions scuttle past cacti as the sun mercilessly beats down. The instrumental Turquoise further evokes imagery of expansive dustbowl vistas and the bustling Rancho Azul provides another border-crossing excursion, yet more evidence of how brass has been placed firmly at the fore. Tracks like Liberada and Caldera demonstrate their mastery of light and shade and knowing when to push and when to hold back. In short, it all adds up to a supremely effective panoply of tempos, textures and colours.
El Mirador is up there with their strongest albums, certainly rivalling the likes of 2003’s acclaimed Feast Of Wire as possibly their best. For a band that has just passed their 25th anniversary it’s a remarkable achievement and a testament to their ability to grow and improve while staying true to their roots. They’ve never sounded better.