The Thread That Keeps Us by CalexicoRelease date: January 26, 2018
Label: City Slang
When Calexico emerged in a flourishing Americana/Alt-Country scene back in the late 1990’s/early noughties their dusty Tex Mex, Mariachi flavourings were a standout ear catching delight and found themselves duly carving out their own niche from the gathering crowd. But for this reviewer after their first few albums interest in the band waned a little as their albums became a bit more polished and consequently more suitable for coffee table functions. It is with delight to be a bearer of good news that for their ninth album they have made a livelier, busier, grittier sounding record.
A couple of changes have been afoot in the Calexico camp prior to commencing on the project. One is trading Arizona as their base for the coast of Northern California to write and record in a house turned studio called ‘Panoramic House.’ Secondly, co-leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino – on vocals/guitar and drums respectively – are still at the helm steering direction but have expanded the family into a septet. And both have made a positive contribution and mark on The Thread that keeps us.
There are opposites at play across the record as the album’s artwork indicates the environment is a provider of beauty, solace, and an essential connection for our humanity. While the antithesis of this is the direction of inland and the current mood of political uncertainty and deepening anxiety. This is all subtle as there are no obvious direct protest songs. It is with lines within the stories which reveal either side of the dark/light, fear/hope contrasts as ‘The up-tempo opener ‘End of the world with you’ and the line ”love in the age of extremes” gives a taste that Calexico are going to pull towards optimism.
There are many variation of styles from soft, drifty, “Girl in the forest’ to noisier guitar and trumpet outbursts. But instead of making the album feel uneven it has the opposite effect and The Thread that keeps us feels cohesive. This is mainly due to a large enough amount of strong songs. Whether it is the choppy guitar powered by a motorized rhythmic groove in ‘Under the wheels’, the hypnotic keys driving ‘Another space’, plus attention grabbing trumpets so cementing it as an album standout. Not forgetting the Duanne Eddy esque guitar riff powering a louder garage rock vibe in ‘Dead in the water’ or the simple sounding floating melody of a latter period Buddy Holly on ‘The town and Miss Lorraine.’
Joey’s voice is always a soothing presence which layers the warmth while the band underpin the songs with an array of grooves from the African rhythm tinged ‘Voices in the field’, through to the Latin flavour of ‘Flores y Tamalas’. Like previous albums there are a couple of interlude instrumentals which are the least interesting material on offer but these are relatively short pieces so, at best, they round out a dash of atmosphere to proceedings.
All band members of the newly expanded septet make noticeable contributions and supplement Calexico’s wider musical vision which made them so interesting at the beginning of their career. Anyone who is or has been interested in Calexico at any stage of their career should make room to give The Thread that keeps us time for a listen, or two, or indeed three.