There is a breed of musician that is never content to sit still. They constantly crave challenge and change, tumbling wildly after their muses with little to no regard for commercial constraints or audience expectations. Though wearing their American Southwest heritage loudly and proudly on their sleeves, Calexico consistently push their boundaries beyond the Tex-Mex sounds that have dominated their career, blending and developing unique combinations of blues, country, jazz and rock into their sonic palette. While their 16-year résumé contains some holes, Calexico rarely disappoints.
On Carried to Dust, Calexico dispenses with the relatively Spartan rock of 2006’s Garden Ruin and revives the wanderlust spirit of 2003’s Feast of Wire. A concept album about a Los Angeles writer taking the high road in search of desert adventure, the music reflects a quest to uncover beauty beyond the gilded hills of Hollywood within the dusty valleys of the Southwest. Indeed, mariachi horns return, along with a grab bag of musical styles from which the band liberally borrows: “Victor Jara’s Hands” handily documents Calexico’s stylistic hybrid sound of country-twang guitars and brass backed by a samba rhythm, which shifts to a rock beat during the chorus, with lyrics sung in both English and Spanish; “House of Valparaiso” could be their most authentic-sounding foray south of the border, with trumpets bursting like gunfire and male and female vocals sung in Spanish.
Calexico continues their more straightforward rock pursuits with Stonesy riffs on “Writer’s Minor Holiday” and give in to the lonesome desert highway spirit on the violin-draped “The News About William.” They travel beyond their stomping grounds with the dub beat of “Fractured Air (Tornado Watch)” and the electronic quiet of closing track “Contention City.” Airy and desert-wide, the song features Douglas McCombs of Tortoise adding eerie keyboard sounds to the mostly instrumental song. It’s a fittingly minimal way to end an extraordinarily intricate record. While most groups lasting over 10 years tend to run on artistic fumes, Joey Burns and John Convertino gush with unbridled creative enthusiasm here.