Garden Ruin

Studio Album by released in 2006
Garden Ruin's tracklist:
Yours and Mine
Bisbee Blue
Panic Open String
Letter to Bowie Knife
Lucky Dime
Deep Down
Nom de Plume
All Systems Red

Garden Ruin review

Garden Ruin is the most straightforward "rock" record Calexico have made

Calexico, a Tucson collective of musicians focused around Joey Burns and John Convertino, forged an eclectic identity through their exploration of Southwestern culture. Composer Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Westerns as well as Portuguese fado; Afro-Peruvian music; and '50s and '60s jazz, country, and surf music all factored into Calexico's music. After nearly a decade spent playing together as Calexico, and with personal recording histories stretching as far back as 1988, Calexico's two principles are seasoned musicians who by now could just as easily stick to what they know and keep their fans happy and hungry for more. But as evidenced by their recent collaboration with Iron & Wine, and now by Garden Ruin, their fifth proper full-length, they're more interested these days in pushing their boundaries and building on strengths. It's produced by JD Foster (Dwight Yoakam), but none of the things you love about Calexico – the sun-baked guitar, smoky vocals, mariachi horns, woozy lyrics – have left. Those elements are just grafted to crispier, more carefully delineated harmonies and multi-tracked backing vocals higher in the mix. Garden Ruin is the most straightforward "rock" record they've made, and the differences between it and Calexico’s previous releases are immediately discernable.

Calexico economically blend jazz, country, American folk, and indie rock

Here, Calexico economically blend jazz, country, American folk, and indie rock into concise, well-oiled pop songs, complete with gorgeous vocal layering. The beautiful melodies on Panic Open String and Bisbee Blue (a warm little love song to Bisbee, AZ, where the album was recorded) and the '70s singer/songwriterisms of Lucky Dime prove that the band can bend pop to Calexico's sound instead of vice versa. Cruel – whose lyrics deal with environmental corruption – nods to the classic Calexico sound with its swooning pedal steel, brass, and strings, while Roka is a haunted yet sexy-sounding duet that echoes the band's most stunning moments. The gentlest, most intimate ballad is called Smash – but even this relatively quiet song has thunderous timpani rolling in the distance. The band also rocks more than it has in the past, earnestly on Deep Down and with real anguish on Garden Ruin's striking final track, All Systems Red. The song begins as a quiet acoustic tune, but morphs into a lurching monster as dramatic as anything the band has done to this point. It's a hell of an ending to a heck of a record, a display of sound and fury at which the duo has rarely even hinted.

The new direction suits Calexico well

After years of being known – accurately or not – as the indie-mariachi band, Calexico may have felt boxed in by their very distinctiveness. Most descriptions of Calexico’s music come coated with Americana cliches (like dust on the prairies etc.), but the best thing about Garden Ruin is the way they look beyond country borders to engage with the wider world, both culturally and musically. The new direction suits Calexico well, proving that even in the face of radical metamorphosis, they remain as stunning and distinctive as ever. Garden Ruin is a more accessible album than previous efforts. Where the open blue skies of the landscapes they chronicled before were tempered by the smoky dark blues of their jazz influences, Garden Ruin is musically brighter. Lyrically too, the album takes a left turn in which contemporary rather than mythical America is addressed. Many of the familiar signifiers are gone, yet their well-crafted and characteristically tuneful compositions still have a recognizable Calexico feel, which won't change as long as Burns is singing and Convertino is setting the mood with his drumsticks. It's what Sigur Ros might sound like if they came from Arizona, and it's truly excellent.

Rate review5.00
Total votes - 4

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