Thursday, April 27th, 2006

All Systems Red

There’s been some talk out there that the new Calexico record is a disappointment, or just plain bad. I hold that this is not true, but an understandable POV. Over the years, if there’s one thing that Calexico could be counted on for, it was for music evocative of the American southwest they call home, all wide-open desert, Mariachi soul and sun-cracked adobe. In fact, it’s only been on the last few records that vocals have become a central component of their records – early on, most of their magic was created instrumentally. It’s actually quite ironic that Joey Burns was initially hesitant to sing because on Garden Ruin, it seems to be all he’s interested in doing.

While their last full-length Feast Of Wire was a near perfect balance of the vocal and instrumental numbers, Garden Ruin tilts almost completely over in favour of the singing. Burns’ voice is front and centre throughout and the record is actually very singer-songwriter-y, seeming more like what I’d have expected a Burns solo record to sound like than a new Calexico album, with the desert atmospherics that used to define their sound now sounding more like production flourishes rather than an integral component of the sound. In truth, I think if the record had been recorded with just Burns and a conventionally configured backing band, it probably wouldn’t have diminished the songs at all which I suppose is equal part compliment and complaint. It used to be that you could expect the unique from Calexico, and now perhaps that’s not so much the case.

But with all that out of the way, one must remember that change is inevitable/good/etc etc. It’s worth noting the songcraft is still quite strong. In particular, the opening and closing numbers “Cruel” and “All Systems Red” are standouts, the latter a not-so-veiled bit of commentary directed at the current administration. The whole record has a similar political undercurrent, which seems to be becoming more and more inevitable for any American band with cable TV. Getting back to the previous point, maybe the need to articulate certain sentiments verbally is part of the drastic shift in direction on Garden Ruin, maybe working with Iron & Wine really opened some new creative doors or maybe deep down they just really want to be a pop band. Time will tell.

But let’s hope that choosing to colour outside their lines hasn’t diminished the band as a live force – their set with I&W last December certainly showed they were still at the top of their game on stage. They’ll be in town on their own for a show at the Phoenix on July 5 6 – tickets are $20 and go on sale today. There’s also a smattering of shows available to download at And though I’ve posted these before, I’m all about the consolidation so check out the audio and video for the first single from Garden Ruin.

MP3: Calexico – “Cruel”
Video: Calexico – “Cruel” (MOV)

The Globe & Mail gets a sneak preview of Living With War, which begins streaming on tomorrow, from his brother Bob. No, seriously. Neil will also be at the Air Canada Centre on July 10 with some old fogies named Crosby, Stills & Nash but apparently they’ll be performing stuff from Neil’s new solo record. Hmm, recorded with a power trio, performed with four-part harmonies. Okay then. Finally, YouTube has a video of Neil being interviewed about the new record by CNN… and dig the brown paper goodness of the album art. Last couple bits via Stereogum.

Billboard talks to The National’s Aaron Dessner about the band’s Summer plans, which include heading into the studio in June to record the follow-up to Alligator as well as contributing a track to the apparently indie-rock-centric next edition of the Red Hot AIDS benefit CDs. And part two of the A Week In The Life Of The National doc is available for free in iTunes. The final part is out next Tuesday.

Frantic Nashville teens gone wild Be Your Own Pet will be at the Mod Club on June 7, tickets $13.50 while Immaculate Machine see how many fans they made whilst opening for The New Pornographers when they play the Horseshoe June 15. And the July 21 Ladyhawk show will be going down at the Rivoli, tickets $8.

IndieInterviews has got an exclusive Voxtrot track for you to download and keep for your very own – frontman Ramesh Srivastava playing an acoustic cover of Blondie’s “Shayla” in Garrison’s Toyota Corrola. talks to the band about the touring grind.

And if you thought I was the only blogger who still cared about Luna, I direct you to the Land of Grambo, where Mark recounts his accidental discovery of the band and anticipates the Tell Me Do You Miss Me documentary. I maintain that if Luna were a new band and released Lunapark or Bewitched today, exactly the same as they came out 15 years ago, the blogosphere would be all over that shiznit. They’d be HUGE. Guaranteed.

np – Luna / Bewitched

By : Frank Yang at 9:01 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Andy says:

    Didn’t Immaculate Machine open for Lake Holiday a few years ago?

  2. Frank says:

    yes. yes they did.

    Well, played with. At Wavelength, "opening for" isn’t really the appropriate phrase for the pecking order.

  3. solace says:

    the new Calexico is fantastic, fuck the haters.

  4. judy martone says:

    ping pong champion turned toronto songwriter

    interesting turn, id say.

  5. Matt says:

    Love the new Calexico album. While I agree that the album does take a more straightforward singer-songwriter approach, I still think the musicianship is top-notch and they sound like much more than just a backing band- the influences are just subtly used. From repeated listenings and watching the accompanying DVD, I got the feeling that they’re immensely comfortable playing together.

    I did miss that more expansive cinematic sound at times however, but I’m sure it will be back.

  6. Dave says:

    I still care about Luna.

    But not the new Calexico. The album would be a lot stronger if the production was more filled-out…i dunno, it feels a little flat and that really doesn’t help the songs.

  7. echo says:

    The new Calexico record is great and anyone who suggest the song writing has slipped is just wrong!

  8. DCeiver says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your take on the new Calexico. I’m surprised it’s not more obvious to people that they had to maintain a certain level of eclecticism and eccentricity to make an early career pitching instrumental wonders to the indie audience. The shift to vocals means that the music has to give way for the eclecticism and eccentricity of the <i>words</i>. I listened to the new record again today and found it to be thoroughly bracing.

  9. Sarah says:

    Looks like Calexico’s on July 6th, not the 5th. This as per and

  10. Frank says:

    thanks for the update, though in all likelihood I won’t be going to the Calexico show, not with the Wilco-sized hit on the concert budget the next night. But stranger things have happened.