Something’s Going On: Calexico
“You’re a pretty thought I suppose
I’m just trying to hold up as I go
And one day I swear I’ll spread my wings
I’m on my way to finer things.”
—‘Fortune Teller’ (taken from ‘Algiers’, 2012)
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
The arrival of a new Calexico record is always a cause of celebration and pure joy. For me, Calexico’s music is the most pivotal and endearing of artistic creations that seamlessly seeps into your veins and hits directly to the heart’s core. ‘Algiers’ is the new album and stands tall as their strongest work to date. Like so many music fans, I look up to Joey Burns (singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) and John Convertino (drums, songwriter, percussion, vibes) in such a profound way that I’m eternally grateful for the songs and music the core duo have composed and performed over the years. It’s their windswept, breathtakingly beautiful instrumentals (is there anything more pure and beautiful as ‘Minas De Cobre’, ‘El Picador’ or ‘Above The Branch’?), heart wrenching ballads (‘Bloodflow’, ‘The News About William’, ‘Fortune Teller’), brooding cinematic opuses (‘Red Blooms’, ‘Black Heart’, ‘The Vanishing Mind’), life affirming symphonies (‘Quattro’, ‘Epic’, ‘Victor Jara’s Hands’), songs of hope etched in the heart of darkness (‘Para’, ‘Crooked Road And The Briar’, ‘..Not Even Stevie Nicks’, ‘Trigger’) and momentous rejoice (‘Crystal Frontier’, ‘Guero Canelo’, ‘No Te Vayas’, ‘Inspiracion’). As always, the deeply rooted music telepathy between Burns and Convertino, combined with the peerless musicianship of the greater Calexico ensemble (spanning continents and encompassing worlds of sound) and producer supreme Craig Schumacher, means that true art is endlessly created.
I was very fortunate to see Calexico on two occasions during their ‘Algiers’ European tour in September. The concerts in Ancienne Belgique, Brussels and at the Vega, Copenhagen were both testaments to the power and glory of these new songs. The anticipation for their long-awaited return was palpable. The pure joy of the sold-out audiences gravitated to unforgotten realms of possibility. The musicians alike were performing out of sheer joy. Inspiration flooded the live auditorium spaces. Calexico’s lineup of Joey Burns (vocals, guitars), John Convertino (drums, percussion), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpets, vibes), Martin Wenk (trumpets, vibes, accordion, guitar), Jairo Zavala (guitars), Sergio Mendoza (keys, piano) and Ryan Alfred (bass) weaved magic through their deep musical connection. John Convertino on stage right, centre orchestrated the cast of stellar musicians. To witness John Convertino’s drums “set ablaze the rafters and the roofs” on ‘Para’ and ‘Black Heart’. The set closer ‘The Vanishing Mind’ that left you awe-struck.
In Brussels, where Joey dedicated ‘The Vanishing Mind’ to my brother and I was a moment we’ll forever cherish. The old and new songs folded seamlessly together unleashing a spectrum of human emotions. The new song ‘Dead Moon’, awashed with dark, brooding grandeur that just missed out on the new album cut. The musicianship on display. The gorgeous duet with Laura Gibson on their reinterpretation of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Waiting For The Miracle’ at the Vega, Copenhagen. The miracle in itself of witnessing Calexico perform live, now and forevermore.
The road atlas of Calexico is a constant, forever striving for newness, while remaining true to their aesthetics. This road atlas began in ’97 with their debut ‘Spoke’ and a wealth of monumental releases later, Calexico remain as this special cosmic force, unparalleled in the atmosphere’s clouds of sound. ‘Algiers’ sees Calexico (as always) immersed in a creative vibe, where music and song rises up and fills the human space. Like the lyric to ‘The Vanishing Mind’, the band’s journey is one of great significance, wherein my heart’s impulse will always bring me back:
“It’s what brought you here
It’s what keeps you here.”
‘Algiers’ is out now on City Slang (EU) and on Anti (US).
Calexico (with support from The Dodos) play Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on February 14.