Calexico | Carried to Dust
Most Likely To: restore your faith in the church of Calexico.
In 2005, desolation-kings Calexico released Garden Ruin, an album that almost single-handedly ruined my opinion of the band entirely.
Up until that point, I had been a die-hard Calexico fan. The whirling sprawl of their sound was one that resonated strongly in my ears, painting pictures of craggy faced men and sad-eyed women who drive perpetually through the open country in hopes of escaping something. I identified with their fears of strip mall progress and the persistent romance of their world view, like paranoid cavaliers who never lost their flair for the majestic (see songs like “Quattro”).
But the key to all of this was the subtle fear that wove it’s way through every track. Subtlety in general seems to have been the operative theme throughout the greater bulk of Calexico’s discography, but Garden Ruin seemed to lose sight of that piece of the band’s identity and ended up as little more than a failed attempt to modernize a sound that was built on a distrust of modernity itself.
Carried To Dust, however, is an almost complete return to form for Calexico. Not only do we see the return of their former penchant for minimalist transition pieces between songs (“Falling From Sleeves”), but the quietly sinister landscape is as vivid as ever (“Bend In The Road”). For anyone who is familiar with what Calexico once was, Carried To Dust is a welcome reminder that the band actually has an identity worth preserving, an identity worth exploring. Gone are the overblown and tasteless dramatics of an era that saw the band pandering to a producer’s whims, an era that resulted in shitty post-offs like “All Systems Red.” In its place are the beautifully textured arrangements to be expected from a band of Calexico’s caliber.
Carried To Dust, however, is more than anything a reminder of how a band can draw gold from the worst of mistakes. Garden Ruin did have some redeeming moments, but those moments were never found in any of the songs that tried to build on what the band had already done. Rather, it was the stylistic departure of songs like “Yours and Mine” that held the greatest weight as they tangled with purer, happier emotions. As a result, the band has now become as adept at writing a love song as they are at writing southwestern funeral dirges and, to take things even further, now seems to have the good taste and wisdom to mingle the two opposing sides successfully.
Calexico has grown considerably from the debacle that was Garden Ruin, Carried To Dust makes this clear, but the sting still remains from that stumble. If this record had come after an album like The Black Light, it would be even more of a revelation as the two sounds would blend and build seamlessly. Coming after Garden Ruin, however, the little touches of fuller production never fail to remind me of the mistakes that were made. But of course this is a bit of an overindulgence. Few people I know are really as invested in this band as I am, many more will probably be coming to Carried To Dust with entirely fresh ears. For those who are, feel privileged; you don’t have to remember what the faithful had to deal with waiting for a record like this. And for those who’ve been with Calexico for as long as I have, don’t worry. A few eps and maybe another album from now, the sour taste left in our mouths that Carried To Dust has taken great pains to wash out should be gone completely.
Listen to “Two Silver Trees” from Calexico: