Album review: Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us

Calexico returns with their 10th studio album, The Thread The Keeps Us, and after all these years, the duo’s unique sound still stands up.

In the course of getting all of my CDs ripped for streaming, I unearthed a copy of Calexico’s Feast Of Wire, wrapped in a makeshift photo copy of the sleeve and also a compliment slip note saying “It’s a grower Simon”. Feast was actually their fifth album, but I guess it reminded me of their time, immediately post Giant Sand, when the multi-instrumentalist duo alighted on a potentially interesting Americana/Latino-hybrid musical style. In truth, they were indeed interesting, but as the buried CD suggests, I never really embraced them or took them to my heart. The arrival of their tenth album, The Thread That Keeps Us, however, has made an instant and marked impression and immediately given a motive for meaningful re-acquaintance.

The new offering from Calexico marks a stylistic shift, something I have been only vaguely aware of from a respectful distance. The Latin elements are largely in check, although still present, if somewhat subsumed by a thoroughly engaging and nagging alt rock, constantly shifting gears from the grungy, the noisy, the downright funky to wistful balladry. One thing that is very much to the fore, however is a real gift for a tune and melodically the album is top class throughout.

In keeping with the urgency of the music, lyrically the tone is also agitated, unsure, concerned, questioning, but yet unquestionably a reflection of troubled times. The album’s opener is titled “The End Of The World With You”, which offers the prospect of, ‘love in the age of the extremes.’ “Voices In The Field” suggests flight and forced migration against a backdrop of, ‘running through fields of flowers and smoke.’ There is a romanticism here, but tarnished by a world at odds with itself and bearing down on the players populating these storied songs.

Musically, “Bridge To Nowhere” sounds as it it has drifted across from Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, “Spinball” briefly broods on fuzzy guitars and cymbal splashes, segueing into the infectious, loping “Under the Wheels”, with it’s drum machine infused reggae. “The Town & Miss Lorraine” is beautiful, but cut through with images of a car wreck. “Another Space” pulls off the trick of sounding like the Talking Heads in convincing style only to give way to another big acoustic tinged, horn led ballad that has Paul Simon’s DNA written through it. Still to come are echoes Of John Lennon, backwards guitars and more grungy rock, meandering psychedelia and finally, sombre ballads, in the affecting closing duo of “Thrown To The Wild” and “Music Box”, while there’s still room for the Latino throwback of “Flores Y Tamales” in the midst of it all.

Calexico performing at the 9:30 Club – 6/5/15 (Photo by Matt Condon)

The trick is the coherence at work here, through all of the stylistic manoeuvres Calexico keep hold of that thread in the album’s title with a focus and sense of purpose that makes for a compelling listen and immersive musical sanctuary from a world crumbling around us. It has me hooked in to the point where the regular stream has been supplemented with the double CD set and yes, the bonus material is worth the price of admission too. The Thread That Keeps Us is as good as anything I have heard in the last two years and something I intend to be playing twenty years from now…. should I be so lucky.

Why not pop by your local Richer Sounds and hear this amazing album for yourself on one of our incredible hi-fi systems today?





Author: Simon, London Bridge store