Calexico A Feast of Wire

[Quarterstick; 2003]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: indie rock, roots rock, alt-country, mariachi, southern-flavored indie rock
Others: Giant Sand, Kinky, Howe Gelb, Neko Case, Wilco

It’s funny the impressions we can get in our heads of things we have never seen or heard. Like when a friend is describing that great new song on the radio, or when they try to give you a virtual imagination tour of the new house they and the bank have just purchased. Compare the picture/sound that you had in your head to the real deal and often times they don’t quite line up together.

Now I like to think of myself as quite open-minded when it comes to music, but for some reason I had a pre-conceived notion of what I thought Calexico would sound like. It wasn’t that I thought they would sound bad, but the skewed notion I had of their southwestern influence did keep me from giving them a listen until now. Turns out that I should have skipped trying to guess their sound and gone right to the actual music instead.

A Feast Of Wire is an instantly & immensely likeable album based on the strength of its musicianship and because of its remarkable diversity. Calexico is able to shift effortlessly between funky instrumentals, dark ballads, and everything else shaken with folk, country, jazz and mariachi. It all sounds like a bit much, but the feeling from the album is very warm and familiar throughout. It’s the type of album you can put on during a dark winter night or a lazy summer afternoon (I have done both already).

The warm tone of A Feast of Wire is set by opener “Sunken Waltz” that conjures up images of a dusty dance across the desert. Joey Burns' voice sounds fragile and beautiful but never breaks. The almost whisper vocals of “Quattro” are backed by a locomotion groove that chugs along before being swallowed up by Calexico’s horn section. “Black Heart” is a dark, sweeping ballad complete with a string section urging us toward the end of the song. Without skipping a beat Calexico then tosses off “Not Even Stevie Nicks” that teases along before crashing into the highly memorable chorus complete with Burns best falsetto. 

Even though the beginning of A Feast of Wire is loaded with more non-instrumental tracks the flow later on the album is seamless. It certainly helps when the instrumentals include the trippy B-movie vibe of “Attack el Robot! Attack!” or the ultra-cool jazz roll of “Crumble”.

After listening to this album it’s almost like I’ve been to the Southwest; sipping Cervezas at sunset in a dusty bar and listening to some house band in the corner named Calexico. At least that’s the way I picture things to be in my head. Perfect.

1. Sunken Waltz
2. Quattro (World Drifts In)
3. Stucco
4. Black Heart
5. Pepita
6. Not Even Stevie Nicks
7. Close Behind
8. Woven Birds
9. Book and the Canal
10. Attack el Robot! Attack!
11. Across the Wire
12. Dub Latina
13. Güero Canelo
14. Whipping the Horse's Eyes
15. Crumble
16. No Doze