Calexico: Garden Ruin (silver & white) LP

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"A band has got to keep changing and moving or it will get boring and break up," says Calexico's John Convertino. Fortunately Calexico have barely stopped moving for twenty years. The distances they have traveled over the years are apparent on their fifth full-length album Garden Ruin. For this 2006 recording, the band brought in producer JD Foster (Marc Ribot) and relocated from Tucson to Bisbee, AZ. Inspired by their surroundings, the band explored musical avenues that they had previously left untouched. "This album was a conscious decision to try something new and tap into strains in our musical fabric that haven't been highlighted in the past," comments Joey Burns. The fabric he refers to is still inherent in their music, of course, the band has always admitted influences as diverse as Portuguese fado, 50's jazz, gypsy or romani music, 60's surf and twang, the spaghetti western epics of Ennio Morricone and dark indie rock singer songwriters like Smog, Richard Buckner, Will Oldham and Vic Chesnutt. But this album, he states, "turned out to be more about songs, songs that didn't necessarily go back to the same pool of influences as before." This is no doubt one reason why Garden Ruin seems a more accessible album. Where the open blue skies of the landscapes they chronicled before were normally tempered by the smoky dark blues of their jazz influences, Garden Ruin is musically brighter, though this time the skies are tempered by a darker lyrical content in which "Birds refuse to fly / No longer trust the sky." Opener "Cruel" is a case in point, its potent melody and almost uplifting arrangement masking stories "that break like branches in the cold." Closing track "All Systems Red" is massive, guitars surging round Burns as he howls in a way that will be as surprising to those who followed the band throughout their career as to the late converts brought in by their cover of Love's "Alone Again Or." Lyrically, too, the album sees Burns taking a left turn, addressing contemporary America rather than the mythical America that always previously inspired him. Stories of the little man are now set alongside far more personal insights into Burns' world view. "There is much more of an influence of the current state of affairs in the lyrics on this album than before," Burns believes. Put succinctly, Garden Ruin is where Calexico fill those dusty, empty landscapes they documented with a big, big sound...

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