One advantage music has over other art is the power to evoke with breathtaking immediacy. This could be a fleeting memory or a whole period of your life… or something else entirely. The city of New York as the War on Terror heaves doggedly onward; a detailed, mythological Great Depression; endlessly sprawling suburban locales; crackling bonfires, dark pine forests and rich, sweeping landscapes.
Now on their seventh studio album, Calexico have been honing their sound since 1996, and today it’s instantly recognisable. The band’s core of Joey Burns and John Convertino have dabbled in styles from spaghetti western to surf rock, jazz to Romani and country to Mariachi, all tied together by instinctive songwriting and impeccable musicianship. Theirs is a world of dusty bars, desert towns and deep romance, and on Algiers it is as enjoyable and inviting as ever.
Named for the neighbourhood of New Orleans where it was recorded, Algiers takes inspiration from its surroundings both in terms of the restored church in which the pair took up residence and the storied nature of the city itself. Says Burns: “The place is strong and bold, soulful to the core, but surrounded by a sea of darkness.”
Consequently, the record traverses numerous styles, offsetting the dramatic spirals of Para and bar-room blues of Sinner in the Sea with the serene indie-folk of Hush and Fortune Teller, the latter of which is particularly gorgeous, tumbling forth on lilting acoustic guitars and gentle backing vocals.
As ever, Algiers is a refined, consistent and beautifully textured set of songs. Along with 2006’s Garden Ruin it falls among the more sedate in the Tucson collective’s discography, though this is no bad thing.
No Te Vayas (“Don’t Go”) is a Spanish-language collaboration between the band’s Jacob Valenzuela and Jairo Zavala of Depedro that sits atop soft, persuasive trumpet figures, while The Vanishing Mind features an assured vocal from Burns that sees the band soar then recede on a deep bed of strings to close the record in style.
Seven albums in, Calexico have lost none of their power to evoke and enthral.