Enter planet dust
‘Carried to Dust‘ is Calexico’s most mature work to date, arguably the best synthesis of their frontier atmospherics and Latin-inflected country songwriting. The follow-up to 2005’s much-dismissed ‘Garden Ruin’, ‘Carried to Dust’ makes the ‘South-Western noir’ tag stick better than any other Calexico album. It’s a record of great dusky beauty, varied and unusual musicianship and haunting songs. More understated than their aknowledged masterpiece ‘Feast of Wire‘, ‘Carried to Dust’ may pass that benchmark in time with its flickering, insidious quality. Cinematic but subtle, whispery yet substantial, there are fewer straight-out brooding Enio Morricone instrumentals, only one blatant Tex-Mex jam. The album is largely song-orientated but, unlike Garden Ruin, deftly impressionistic, with ghostly electronic touches that recall Wilco’s ‘Ghost is Born‘, Bon Iver’s ‘Emma, Forever Ago‘, and the work of long-term collaborator Iron & Wine, aka Samuel Beam, who features here on the sublime ‘House Of Valparaiso’.
Despite working with a number of guest singers and musicians (also including Canadian singer Pieta Brown and Amparanoia’s Amparo Sanchez) Joey Burns and John Convertino have been successful in qwelling the magpie-ish tendencies of previous albums, sustaining a coherent mood over a (thankfully) more concise 45 minutes. While it may not have the epic scope and more various thrills of ‘Feast of Wire’, ‘Carried to Dust’ is a more focused album – the sound of a band comfortable with their, um, sound, and the possibilities it presents. As much as I loved the border country schtick that made them famous, I always felt that band were doomed to pigeonholing and it is great to hear them pull off an album of songs without compromising their South-Western soul. Better still, ‘Carried to Dust”s moods are rarely prosaic – less readily associated with the default American landcapes of earlier albums.
Aside from the wonderful ‘House of Valparaiso’, other album highlights include the glimmering oriental harps of ‘Two Silver Trees’ or the polished, Chris Isaak noir of ‘Man Made Lake’ – fuzzy guitars and minor key glockespiel conspiring towards a blissful dissonance. The seafarer’s poem ‘The News About William’ recalls Fleet Foxes’ romantic folk, but what Joey Burns lacks as a singer compared to Robin Pecknold, Calexico compensate with a musical tapestry richer than that of their contemporaries. ‘Writer’s Minor Holliday’, with its backing vocal sighs from Adrienne DeNIke and swaggering rhythm section, echoes James Jackson Toth’s fine solo debut ‘Waiting In Vain‘. While ‘Slowness’ is a hazy country duet between Burns and Pieta – with all the gorgeous steel pedal twang you could ever hope for – ‘Inspiracion’ is skeletal Latin folk, Tom Waits at a Dia De Los Muertos procession. Enjoy!