Take comfort in Calexico
Hanna Kennedy | Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Joey Burns and John Convertino — the Arizona natives that make up the band Calexico — look to the arid landscape they call home for their ninth album’s inspiration. Recorded in California, “The Thread That Keeps Us” draws on the unique environmental, social and political issues faced by the American Southwest. The result is an album underpinned by a desire to tell stories in a way that’s rooted in humanizing compassion.
The impact of the wildfires on the two states the band calls home, Arizona and California, is readily heard across the album, but especially on “Voices in the Field.” The opening guitar riff draws the reader in until Burns’ vocals takeover. The opening lines — “Running thru fields of flowers and smoke / Leaving behind all that we’ve built / The garden now ashes and the roof is caving in” — create a clear picture of the destruction and pain faced by those enduring today’s ecological chaos. The songs conjure up an image of displacement and homelessness, evoking not only those impacted by environmental destruction, but also those forced to leave their home countries, another theme embraced by the band.
“Under the Wheels” speaks directly to the immigrant experience. Without being explicitly political, it attempts to give voice to the voiceless. The first verse opens, “Walking around with your head bent down / Complacent in a sedated state / I wanted to hear what you had to say / But there was too much talking over each other.” The result is a humanizing sketch of those shut out of the policy debates most likely to impact them, a sad reality of today’s politics. The song is suffused with an impassioned yet brooding energy, as Burns and Convertino stand in solidarity with the disenfranchised. Despite its activist attitude, this song is not necessarily hopeful, and the lyrics go on to introduce the apocalyptic imagery found elsewhere on the album, especially the tracks “End of the World with You” and “Bridge to Nowhere.”
On a lighter note, Calexico, true to its name, continues to incorporate influences from across the border into its 2018 sound. On the track “Flores y Tamales,” Jairo Zavala — one of the band’s many multi-instrumentalists — sings in Spanish, mixing a cumbia rhythm with mariachi horns. These genre fusions and experimental sound combinations provide Calexico’s unique, inimitable Southwestern indie-rock sound.
Calexico — formed in the mid-’90s — hasn’t changed its sound since its last album. Burns and Convertino know how to do indie rock well, and they stick to their strengths. This album’s real novelty comes from its subject matter. Despite regularly writing about transient workers and the struggles they face leaving, creating, and embracing homes (new and old), this album is wholly dedicated to the pains of displacement, whether it be from environmental disasters or political ones. If anything, Calexico’s unchanging sound functions as a comfort in this ever-changing world.
Album: “The Thread That Keeps Us”
Tracks: “End of the World with You,” “Voices in the Field,” “Bridge to Nowhere”
If you like: Iron & Wine, Giant Sand, Wilco