Pressing play on the new Calexico record is akin to gently parting the curtains after a restless, fever plagued night to find the new day outside well into it's swing, the world still spinning and the sun still beating down mercilessly. As the light streams in you're weary figure is bathed in its healing warmth and your woes of the night before are banished to a distant memory. And the more this album casts this light on all other offerings from this band, 2006's Garden Ruin is illuminated as something of a blip, a brief moment of bad form, and even though it was by no means a poor album it has become glaringly obvious that Carried To Dust is what this band do best. But that is not to suggest that this is merely Calexico by numbers.
Having opted for the bold yet polite statement of Garden Ruin, Joey Burns turns the haze up once again and he and his blissful music retreat into the shadows. And its from here that the familiar dusty sounds of Calexico emerge gently, feeling no need to hurry or impress, choosing the subtle, time honored approach and allowing their sweeping cinematic panoramas to gradually seep into your being. It's a roaming album that makes its way through sprawling, sun-baked terrain, its eyes set on the ocean ahead as a symbol for new shores. Along the way it picks up many characters from murdered political poets to refugees displaced from their homeland.
Musically, Carried To Dust is a masterclass. Every note played and every word breathed serves the grand purpose. The dry landscape of Two Silver Trees is pricked by the crispest of notes that twinkle like timid sprouting shoots. Burns' whispered vocals step into the light cautiously then as the music swells the song expands to magnificent sweeping vistas. The same can be said for The News About William that follows. The addition of the string section provides the grandeur here with Burns' voice rising from its hushed tones to match the soaring horns and violins.
Calexico can evoke scenes of endless landscapes bathed in light and warmth but in an instant can fill these visions with seething tension. Fractured Air both in title and sound illustrates this perfectly with its clipped guitar and clenched reservation. The apocalyptic Man Made Lake simmers all the way through, the beat and tinkling piano suggesting a twilight where all is not at rest. This tension is brought to a magnificent and unusual head as screeching guitars bring this song to an uneasy but expert close. Then by contrast, songs like Slowness with its sweet female accompaniment and slide guitar and the album closer Contention City drift along on a warm breeze with lazy, idyllic lethargy.
House Of Valparaiso could be one of the most perfect Calexico songs to date. It has all you want from this band from Burns' hushed tones setting the scene then the heat being turned up ever so slightly with the inclusion of gentle mariachi trumpets. These are then layered by the rising vocals soaring effortlessly over head of the pitter-patter rhythm like a thermal riding bird of prey. Carried To Dust consolidates all that this band has learnt from its long history. It doesn't just rehash the many successful elements of 2003's Feast Of Wire but builds on these via the lessons learnt from Garden Ruin. Calexico have always been a band that dare to experiment with the tradition in which they are firmly planted but their need for experimentation never overtakes the music. It is always employed solely to serve the song and this album shows that it's this reserved flair that is the ultimate triumph for these songs.