Carried To Dust

When I reminisce about visiting Tucson, Arizona I think of dry deserts with huge boney trees, amazing blue skies that sear pavement, novelty shops with "Day of The Dead" paraphernalia, a mix of cultures that produce authentic Mexican restaurants and cowboy bars, ancient rock hieroglyphics and dusty ghost town attractions. But not until Calexico did I connect indie rock to this border city.

Calexico blends the sounds of the two worlds that dominate this community without binding themselves too closely to either. At the heart of the band are singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns and drummer and contributing writer John Convertino. After nearly a decade of working with a rotating roster of musicians, the band seems to have solidified around bassist Volker Zander, pedal steel player Paul Niehaus, and trumpeters Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela.

Before I go any further I think it’s important to define the term “indie rock.” If you’re thinking loud and fast think again. In terms of indie rock I mean - not mainstream, literally independent. To encapsulate Calexico’s sound I’d use words like “subtle,” “intimate,” “intricate,” “haunting,” even “ethnic.” The band’s past releases are complex quilt worked songs that are woven together with short instrumental interludes. Carried To Dust offers several examples of this process with the instrumentals “Sarabande In Pencil Form,” “El Gatillo (Trigger Revisited),” and “Falling From Sleeves.”

The ethnicity on the album is boldly presented in the Spanish sung “Inspiracion” resplendent with bright, punctuated trumpet calls and Amaro Sanchez’s magestic voice. “Victor Jara’s Hands,” a tribute to the martyred Chilean artist, is sung in both English and Spanish with guest vocalist Jairo Zavala. But the feel of the southwest is a more subtle sound that is derived from the slow paced melodies, the tapped and brushed rhythms, the whining steel guitar, and the softened vocals of the singers. Joey Burns and fellow vocalist Pieta Brown capture that laconic feel on “Slowness” as they purr out “You and me behind the wheel hovering/In that slowness/And that slowness/Has never gone away.”

There is much on Carried To Dust that puts you in mind of Calexico’s earlier albums, particularly Feast of Wire. It’s as if the band has gone back to flesh out ideas that intrigued them enough to explore further. Burns and Convertino enhance these sounds with ever more complex and elegant arrangements. “Two Silver Trees” begins with a tinkling piano that sounds like sunlight filtering through branches while the altered toy piano in “Contention City” sounds like a beckoning from a mysterious corner of the room. Very few bands are capable of creating this kind of aural atmosphere. Calexico has produced another enchanting album that takes the listener on a journey to a more exotic place.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)