Music News


The diversity of melancholic genres Calexico blends together within its latest release, Feast of Wire, is almost as varied as 17th-century writer Robert Burton's behemoth book-of-all-books, The Anatomy of Melancholy. "Sunken Waltz" trips through the 3/4 timing of a traditional waltz, always staggering in a little late on the last beat. It's this wooziness that makes the blues so effective when it's, well, echoing the blues. Writer Fred M. Mills calls the Tucson band's unusual mix of mariachi, Afro-Peruvian music and jazz "desert noir." It's a fitting title and is Calexico's alone, as they rarely leave the darkness of the minor key.

Roughly broken up into thirds, Feast of Wire begins in a depressed state. "Black Heart," a moaning, lo-fi gripper, suffocates the listener with its breathy vocals and percussion so far in the pocket you're almost sure the drummer is nodding off between measures. Agitated violins provide a nervous edge and keep the song from becoming a lullaby.

The second third leaves some of the despondency behind and grows celebratory, at least in the music. Drawing from mariachi, this section is ignited by the proud announcements of double trumpet arrangements, a brilliant contrast to the uneasy violins on "Black Heart." Even if the trumpets, pedal steel and accordion struggle to the surface on tracks such as "Across the Wire," Joey Burns' lyrics push us back down when he describes an unforgiving border life: "The waters recede as the drought closes in/Revealing a whole lake of sleeping children."

Afro-Peruvian rhythms and Spanish vocals propel "Guero Canelo," a song anchored by Burns' lo-fi grumbles, masked by a megaphone-type effect. Then the world beat gives way to cool jazz for the final third on "Crumble" and the last track, "No Doze." We're not deposited exactly where we started, but we've definitely come full-circle and have been placed back in no man's land, steeped firmly in musical sadness.

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Mike Cryer