posted: July 15, 2015
Few artists can slip into different stylistic skins while also maintaining identities distinctly their own. It’s the hallmark of painters like David Hockney and of musicians like Beck and Bjork. Calexico may not share that level of renown or impact, but the group’s gift for creative osmosis is the same.
The Arizona-based band, consisting of core members of Joey Burns and John Convertino, spent the first half of its nearly two-decade career exploring genres ranging from country to post-rock to jazz to Tejano. These influences crystallized the band’s sound on 2008’s Carried to Dust, a record the collective has since struggled to top. Five albums later, Edge of the Sun settles comfortably into Calexico’s well-explored corner of the rock universe. When a band can command its sound as adeptly as Calexico does here, perhaps innovation is overrated.
Recorded partially in Mexico City, Edge of the Sun is one of a handful of Calexico recordings made beyond the band’s home base of Tucson. But much like 2012’s Algiers, recorded in New Orleans, the influence of a new locale isn’t immediately apparent in the group’s sound. Rather, the new context inspired Calexico to open the record up for collaboration—a smart move, particularly considering some of the collective’s best-loved work has been in cooperation with artists like Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
Beam returns on Edge of the Sun, and counts as one of seven guests on the 12-track set, which also includes Neko Case, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, Spanish singer Amparo Sanchez, and multi-instrumentalists from the Greek band Takim.
The sophisticated material takes on the stylistic spectrum the band built its name on. At its best, Edge of the Sun is lush and visceral, a forward-looking record that captures the tension and momentum of someone reaching to climb from the shadows. The Sanchez duet “Cumbia Donde,” for example, begins with a languid synth line and a question (“when will I get there?”), eventually building to a crescendo of trumpets as Burns declares with near-evangelical urgency: “I’m on my way!”
“World Undone,” meanwhile, returns to the simmering blues noir that marked Calexico’s earliest records. The tense, foreboding track is made all the more satisfying when a wave of Takim’s strings and percussion kicks in at the end—the inevitable crash you always knew would come. As Burns quietly growls “Still waiting on the fence/Too many times before/What keeps you here anymore?” it’s clear just how much he’s come into his own as a singer adept at wrapping his voice around the needs of each song.
The album’s weaker moments arrive on midtempo tunes, with “When The Angels Played” and “Miles From The Sea” feeling like generic indie-rock filler thrown in to bookend the hunger and electricity darting through the other songs.
Such padding keeps holding Calexico back from making a record that continues to advance their music. Success has afforded the beloved group a richer, more polished sound in recent years, yet the group could benefit from more of the rawness and focus found on efforts such as 1998’s The Black Light. If and until that happens, Edge of the Sun remains a worthy roadmap on how to get there.–Andrea Domanick