by Jim Nintzel
Ahead of the April 14 release of Edge of the Sun, Calexico performs "Falling From the Sky" on Conan.
Meanwhile, NPR is now streaming the whole album here.
NPR's Tom Moon notes:
The miracle of Calexico: Though the scenery of the American Southwest remains largely unchanged — give or take varying degrees of water panic — the band's sense of it continues to deepen and grow. What began, nine albums ago, as a series of outsider snapshots has evolved into a more studied portrait of something beyond ersatz trinkets and cheap norteno knockoffs. Something poignant, nuanced, reverential. It's too early to tag Edge Of The Sun as the band's masterpiece, but song for song, it's the most textured and dimensional Calexico record. It starts with a screaming blast of pure pop asking the musical question, "Where do you fall when you have no place to go?" and from there, it rambles through all the desert permutations of no place to go — the tiny cantinas where the narcocorridos tell their tales, the gulches by the side of the road where the drifters rest, the places best described by their nothingness.
All of it drips heat. As with everything from the band, especially the similarly diverse 2003 album Feast Of Wire, Edge Of The Sun covers lots of stylistic ground — what knits it together is that constant, tremolo-like shimmer of sun radiating off of brush, dirt, pavement. The sources of inspiration, evident in various ratios at various times during this variously populated band's run, are usually rendered in reviews as an equation involving mariachi, tequila, Steinbeck, narco ballads, Morricone, norteño, Hank Williams, border wars, Barbara Kingsolver, the kitsch wing of indie rock, Dylan circa John Wesley Harding, psychedelic surf of the '60s, Byrds-y high harmonies and baritone guitars.
From these, Calexico has fashioned an alluring, sometimes overstuffed, strangely durable audio mythology. The sonic aesthetic has evolved over the years, but mostly in small ways: Edge Of The Sun features some snazzy brass writing, and vocal-harmony arrays that scream rainbows the way the Grass Roots and other pop acts of the '60s did. The atmospheres, as richly detailed as they are, exist in service of sly, high-level songwriting. Founders Joey Burns and John Convertino understand the forms and structural basis of the styles, as their take on mariachi draws on the chord progressions and melodic turns embedded within some of the form's classics. While the music can ride a wave of irreverence — see the giddy bilingual "Cumbia De Donde," featuring Amparo Sanchez — it's never simply a glib touristic re-creation. You can learn something from it. There's always basic respect for the forms, as well as sensitivity to the ways to subvert them: It's an act of worship to transform something as easily stereotyped as mariachi into music that's vivid and cinematic and original. That's what's going on here.