upbeat hillbilly groove
Thursday, May 18 2006
A week or so ago Matt Rogers told me about the new Calexico CD Garden Ruin, which I have been able to illegally download over the subsequent days. As with all the music I've been listening to, it's been a soundtrack for my gloomy pessimism about how our technological society will wind down over future decades. I've always been a fan of Calexico, though I can't say exactly why. The singer's voice is smooth and low-key, like a downmixed Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. It's a little bit folk-country-rock like the Jayhawks, but it's more mellow, though nowhere near the extreme of, say, the Cowboy Junkies. Then there is that surf guitar sound, a sound that's been widely recycled throughout alternative rock. You're tipped off to Calexico's main distinction by the suffix of their name. There's that Mexican thing, a south-of-the-border sound distilled and spiked back in to the surf-alt-country. Usually it takes the form of ghostly horn sections, vintage organs, and spare cowboy movie soundtrack guitar.
The mix was a lot more surf-Mex in previous albums than it is in Garden Ruin, whose sound is, dare I say, indistinct, like mid-period Jayhawks by way of late-period Radiohead. If I wasn't told it was Calexico I might not know. It's pretty much straight ahead alt-rock, particularly in songs like "Letter to Bowie Knife" and "Deep Down." This isn't to say I don't like the songs; I'm as much of a sucker for a straight ahead rock anthem as any 30-something white guy. Adding some broccoli to all those fat guitars and carbo grooves is the fact that it's an angry political album, chock full of despairing (though not irritatingly overt) commentary about the present day American political climate. It's a much better listen than Neil Young's latest work, also an angry political album. (If you're a musician and you're not writing angry political music, you're part of the problem.) My favorite song is "Deep Down," whose lyrics sound like they were written directly to Colin Powell. It's a deeply haunting song set atop an upbeat hillbilly groove. The effect makes you want to hear it three hundred times, as I already have. Another song I love is "All Systems Red." I'm a big fan of its use of dynamics, how it builds slowly up from a quiet guy with a guitar to absolute entropy in the course of six point one five minutes.
The other material I've been listening to comes as a result of a tip sent to me by another reader. It's Band of Horses, another straight ahead alt-rock band, this one with a singer who sounds like the guy from My Morning Jacket. These are some guys who are not afraid of using their echo pedal. My favorite song is "Boat to Row," which is so beautifully creeped-out that it somehow manages to scare the shit out of me every time I hear it.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next