Album Review: Calexico, ‘Edge of the Sun’
In one three-song stretch, Calexico's ninth album goes from gentle folk-tronica with ethereal backing vocals by Neko Case, a gurgling cumbia with an English-Spanish call-and-response and pop grandeur that takes flight on the wings of a string section and lands somewhere between Nick Drake and Beck. By the time Edge of the Sun concludes, Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino have taken listeners on a journey that touches on the aforementioned styles in addition to rockabilly, Tex-Mex, power pop, indie rock, rambling Americana and a kind of space-age variation on mariachi music. As usual, Burns and Convertino involve a slew of special guests, including Case, Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata, Carla Morrison, Gaby Moreno and multi-instrumentalists from the Greek/Balkan ensemble Takim.
Music reviewers frequently refer to Calexico being based in Tuscon, Ariz., which is fair enough given how their Tex-Mex and Americana stylings can sometimes conjure romanticized images of the Southwest.
This time, though, Burns and Convertino recorded Edge of the Sun in a variety of locations, including Mexico City, Greece and Los Angeles. But unlike their last album, Algiers, which was recorded and also thematically anchored in New Orleans, Edge of the Sun sounds less tethered to any one location.
The most Latin-tinged songs on the record, for example, weren't all recorded in Mexico City. That's not terribly surprising considering that, by this point, Calexico have gotten quite adept at layering their music with unorthodox textures no matter what styles they bring to the table.
It says a lot about Burns and Convertino's songwriting that, for all the supposed desert-noir undertones in their work, the location they manage to conjure most vividly with Edge of the Sun is wherever you, the listener, happen to be while listening. Which is to say that the essence of their connection with the audience doesn't rest solely in their gumbo-like mixture of stylistic ingredients, but on more intangible qualities at the heart of their songs.
As such, Edge of the Sun unfolds with a pleasant sense of aimlessness that's best summed up by the bouncy "Cumbia Donde," where Burns sings, "Where am I going? / Should I care? / When will I get there? / Can't really say ..."
Indeed, while listening to Edge of the Sun, you won't always know where you are, but the music gives you an unhurried feeling of being lost that, when you get right down to it, is the best we could hope from any album we choose to listen to. And after making eight of them, Calexico are clearly reveling in the art of getting carried away, both literally and creatively.