Ever wondered what it’s like having a split personality? One minute you’re silently brooding over spilt milk, then all of the sudden the lights switch on and you’re wearing a poncho, boogying down to the Mexican Hat Dance. This is a little like how it feels listening to Calexico’s new record Edge Of The Sun. It’s a rambling mix of 60s folk-pop, American indie rock and mariachi, and by the end it leaves you feeling a little dazed and confused, and oddly craving margaritas, which in most cases is a really good thing.
The monumental ninth album from Calexico Edge Of The Sun sees the band pull out all the stops with a colourful mix of American indie rock and Mexican folk.
Calexico have had an illustrious career since starting out way back in 1996. They have recorded with Iron and Wine and Nancy Sinatra, featured on an Arcade Fire B-side by request of the band themselves, toured with Pavement and the Dirty Three amongst many others, and have been featured on the Bob Dylan biopic He’s Not There and Breaking Bad. Despite all this, the band has more or less flown under the radar in comparison to their heavyweight contemporaries. Edge Of The Sun is their ninth studio LP amongst a sprawling discography of live albums, EPs, singles, soundtracks and guest appearances. Calexico are one of those manic bands that want to do everything and anything they can get their hands on and have built a solid enough base of respect around them to facilitate such a mania.
Edge Of The Sun seems like a testament to an obsessive band, one eager to grow and stretch their long creative limbs. There are moments on the album that follow well trodden ground on the softer side of indie rock. Bullets and Rocks could very well be The Vaccines with it’s husky vocals and harmonies that follow a moody guitar riff streaked with drawling vintage organs and staccato horns. Falling From The Sky has a Band of Horses touch – obviously owing the cameo of the band’s own Ben Bridwell – with its marching drums and swirling synths as Bridwell questions “Where do we fall when we’ve got nowhere to go?” It all seems a little tired and uninspired, like a band going through the rounds, sticking close to the modern indie-rock psyche because they know it’s safe and it has worked before.
Tracks like Tapping On The Line and When The Angels Played have a 60s folk-pop tinge, a little bit of James Taylor added into the mix with some softly tapped rhythms and acoustic guitars, and the whole things threatens to become a little stagnant before we have hit even side-B…but hold on, what’s that? Did somebody just say tequila? Nope that’s just Cumbia De Donde, a full-blown mariachi party, complete with stabbing horns and shuffling insistent percussion. By the end of the track you have to check your music player ‘cause it’s impossible that that was the same band. All of the sudden it happens again with the instrumental Coyoacan (a city in Mexico) and it seems like despite all of Calexico’s sincerity they know how to let loose. It almost feels like they are playing a game with you.
Purposely whipping you around the world; from modern, rather urban, indie-rock to traditional Mexican folk and it’s hard to tell whether it’s a gimmick or it’s wonderful. All that can be sure is which one you’d want to put on at a party. Beneath The City of Dreams blends Mexican folk with some spaghetti western twang and reggae rhythms, and all of the sudden the band’s name has never made more sense (Calexico is a town bordering California and Mexico, but never has this seemed more pertinent than on Edge Of The Sun). World Undone is a highlight on the modern-folk side of the album. Dark and brooding, it fits their self-proclaimed “desert-noir” mold perfectly. It has a decidedly cinematic feel as spectral sounds willow around a plucked guitar that build to an epic finale. The track encapsulates elements of everything that precedes it with flecks of folk, both modern and traditional, indie rock, Americana and Mexicana, and it feels right.
Edge Of The Sun sounds like a band trying to do too much and as a result, are unsure of what they are trying to do. It’s like a confused teen, unsure of whether to follow the craze of watered-down indie rock, or to follow their heart and get shit-faced on tequila while blowing on a trumpet. The latter is actually the most interesting element to Edge Of The Sun, but one that is almost unpalatable in mainstream music. Where the band really hit their stride is where they find a common ground, a place where Mexicana and Americana find harmony, and I think we know what the place is called.
While you’re here, check out our list of the best music biopics out there.