The Upshot: A bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop while also showcasing a newfound anthemic side.
BY FRED MILLS
By way of full disclosure, I’m hardly objective where it comes to Calexico, having known founding members Joey Burns (guitar, vocals) and John Convertino (drums) for years and additionally authoring the liners to their 2011 vinyl box set, Road Atlas. That caveat aside, I’ve long marveled at the group’s musical evolution, from a folkish desert rock duo with occasional Latin influences to a bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop. The single-LP or double-LP set (take your pick; it’s also available on CD) The Thread That Keeps Us maintains this sense of place, particularly on gorgeous, windswept numbers like the Morricone-esque cinematic psych of “Voices in the Field” and the Spanish-language Mariachi rock of “Flores y Tamales.”
The group also has perfected the art of the anthem—fittingly enough, as this is an overtly political album in places, its lyrics detailing and decrying the “age of extremes” we’re living in—with songs like the soaring, U2-like “End of the World With You” and heavy-twang stomper “Dead in the Water” leading the way.
Throw in a bonus LP with the deluxe edition, its seven tracks showing off a more understated, trancey side to the band, and Calexico emerges as one of the most diverse, free-ranging outfits operating.
Incidentally, fans who contributed the band’s pre-release PledgeMusic campaign were able to select an autographed LP or CD among various premiums, making for an instant collectible. (Calexico has long been prone to offering limited editions and collectebles, going all the way back to their annual calendars and tour-only CDs; the aforementioned box set collected those tour-only discs as a massive 12LP artifact.)
Sonically speaking, a forum thread at Discogs.com drew some lively debate over the quality of the mastering and mixing. For my part, I don’t detect any “pointlessly muffled” passages, but I did indeed have to turn the volume up on side A, which clocked in at 25 minutes. Calexico is also a large group, with 7-9 people performing at any given moment, so a bit more volume helps spread that density across the soundstage and allows their dynamic nuances to emerge. Other commenters speculated on it being a poor pressing, the 180-gm. European pressing reviewed here presumably being superior to the U.S. edition (single LP, 15 songs) on the Anti- label. Inconclusive, but still worth noting.
DOWNLOAD: “Voices in the Field,” “Flores y Tamales,” “Dead In the Water”
A version of this review originally appeared in Stereophile magazine. Also note that BLURT’s Lee Zimmerman has also reviewed the CD version of the album for us.