Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Album Review: Garden Ruin

Garden Ruin is Calexico's first release since their Convict Pool covers EP and their first album proper since their critically lauded 2003 effort, Feast Of Wire. Long-time fans won't be surprised to know that the Tucson collective explore new territory on Garden Ruin, but they might be intrigued to learn that this is almost certainly Calexico's most pop-orientated release to date.

With producer J.D. Foster, who has worked with everyone from Dwight Yoakam and Marc Ribot to Nancy Sinatra and Alejandro Escovedo, Calexico put themselves in good hands to continue their exploration of South Western culture and music; the flamenco-flecked Roka (Danza de la muerte) is just one indication of how far the band has come in their journey of Latin music, even recalling the mariachi trumpets of their earlier albums. However, Calexico have a well-deserved reputation for restless invention and there are more overt rock moments than fans may be accustomed to. So, while the hushed, desert-rock sound of Yours And Mine and the soulful, string-flecked Bisbee Blues might fit most effortlessly into the Calexico blueprint, they prove themselves equally adept at rocking out on Letter To Bowie Knife and the Crazy Horse-tinged six-minute album closer, All Systems Red. In fact, it could easily be Rivers Cuomo from Weezer singing the former's call-and-response chorus rather than Joey Burns.

Yet, Letter To Bowie Knife is not the only undisguised pop moment on Garden Ruin. Lucky Dime is a beautiful acoustic pop song, with Burns' papery vocals barely floating above John Convertino's gambolling guitar work. It would be the album's standout moment were it not followed by Smash. Here, Burns is reduced to a lovelorn whisper, with frail guitar and bated drum the only accompaniment, until the song detonates around the two-minute-thirty mark and the addition of a piano sees the song through to its stunning instrumental conclusion.

It's fair to say that while it's an album that takes a couple of listens before it begins to bloom, Garden Ruin is every bit as flawless as 2003's Feast Of Wire. Granted, some of the tracks form a slight departure for Calexico, but coming from a band of such sterling musicianship and imagination, Garden Ruin was never going to be anything less than spectacular.

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