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coverpic flag US - Arizona - Full Moon 80 - 04/16/03

Feat Of Wire
City Slang

Their name tells the story. An amalgam so ergonomic it takes a while to sink in, this band have perfected a music of contrasts. Cal(ifornia) and (M)exico; San Diego and Tijuana - the name conjures up something like a border town in Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil, with all the age-old mistrust and subversive cross-pollination that entails. From this axis of uneasy neighbours, however, Calexico have found a beautiful, logical conclusion that sounds as old as the Wild West and as contemporary as anything else you'll hear this year.

Calexico - Joey Burns and John Convertino - used to be the rhythm section of pioneers Giant Sand, but Feast Of Wire takes in a whole range from wheezy accordion waltzes to tragic, sweeping vistas of strings, from mariachi exuberance to eerie electronica. The album is truly a wide-screen marvel, though never self-indulgent or in danger of losing focus. The economy deployed is refreshing - 16 tracks in a little over 45 minutes - and there's a wealth of ideas and styles here. The whole thing is shot through with a consistency of mood that results in a work more redolent of a Leone Western or outlaw novel, than a "mere" pop album. This is despite, or perhaps because of, frequent instrumental interludes that skilfully accentuate the album's shades of dark and light. "The Book And The Canal", for example, introduces Side 2 with morose, mournful piano; "Crumble" is like the incredible jazz/funk/latin soundtrack to a movie's climax chase scene. Somehow, these opposing forces are contained within Calexico's breadth of vision.

Like the characters in their songs, Burns and Convertino always seem ready to drop what they're doing and move on - sometimes you wish they were less so, though there's always another experience just around the corner. Like when the edgy mandolin and soothing pedal steel of "Pepita" fades into "Not Even Stevie Nicks", though the latter is the best song Mercury Rev never did. Or when the noirish nu-jazz breakbeat (honestly!) of "Attack El Robot! Attack!" ends far too soon, but kicks straight into the more traditional "Across The Wire", perhaps the most explicit result of the band's just-north-of-the-border residency in Tuscon, Arizona.

Calexico can't really be accused of musical tourism, though. The disparate styles are so expertly arranged and entwined that it's virtually impossible to see the join. What could have turned out over-styled and lifeless has alchemised into something fully realised and breathtaking. Seek it out.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Calexico article/review: Edge of the Sun.

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