Posted by: will | June 15, 2006



Calexico "Garden Ruin" (Quarterstick)

I'm not going to lie to you. I like the new Calexico "sound" better than the band's trademarked mariachi indie rock. Garden Ruin is the band's fifth full-length studio album and it is by far their most straight-forward release. Gone (but not completely) are the complex arrangements and the wealth of diverse instrumentation. This is certainly a more stream-lined version of the band and I think it does wonders in bringing the band's brilliant songwriting to the forefront.

Garden Ruin is an intriguing development for a band that had perhaps pigeonholed itself as some kind of indie rock novelty/variety act. The album proves beyond a doubt that there is no validity to that though. Maybe it was the band's recent collaboration with Iron & Wine or the band's touring with Wilco that led to this metamorphisis in sound. Whatever it may be, the band nails it effortlessly.

Garden Ruin is really a practice in restraint from a band that is not accustomed to holding back in the least bit. It certainly proves my theory for a lot of music that sometimes less is definintely more. You can tell that you are in for something different from the band as "Cruel" and the acoustic-based "Yours And Mine" open the album. "Panic Open String" is a hushed song that builds to a wonderful climax with the lyrics Ocean's to the coast/Will cling to their host/The sun will split in two/Sink thru an empty sky and ends on a somber note with the lyrics It's where we'll go when we/Leave this place and die. "Letter To Bowie Knife" is as straight forward a rock song that Calexico has ever written and it sounds wonderful! Old Calexico returns on "Roka" as a sultry female vocalist steals the spotlight as she sings her lyrics in Spanish. "Smash" starts off hushed but builds gorgeously in grand Calexico fashion. "Deep Down" is another rock-oriented tune that starts off with the telling lyrics, When numbers matter more than the heart/Your eyes are hollow and stiffness starts to take control/ Capsize the soul, deep down you know it's evil/ You've always known. I could go on and on. Garden Ruin is a lesson in all things that truly make up an engaging record.

As the epic and beautifully exhausting album closer "All Systems Red" comes to a close the listener is left wondering what has hit them. Is this really the same Calexico? Garden Ruin is quite simply a stunning achievement for the band. The lyrical line in "All Systems Red" of I wanna tear it all down and build it up again rings true for Calexico. The band has quite simply torn their sound down into something incredibly powerful. It will be fascinating to see if the band chooses to build it back up all over again.

RIYL: Wilco, Iron & Wine, Richard Buckner

Listen: Calexico – Cruel (mp3)



  1. I’ve listened to “All Systems Red” about 50 times since I got the album. That song is obscenely good.

    I totally agree, I love this new direction for them. I love their old stuff, too, especially “Convict Pool”, but this one is outstanding.

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