A melting pot of styles, songs and supporters produces a brilliant album which insists that you dance to it.
The mix of Mexican, Americana and Indie Rock that Calexico serve up has always been appealing on the face of it. So a new album from them is something to look forward to. With the last “proper” album coming along in 2018 (a Christmas record and joint venture with Iron and Wine have come in between) it was reasonable to expect something exceptional. And that’s what we have.
The stand out songs on early listens are the two Cumbia (a Colombian dance) based songs, ‘Cumbia Peninsula’ and ‘Cumbia Del Polvo’ jump out of the speakers and brighten the day instantly. If you can sit still to these, check your pulse. ‘The El Burro Song’, is pure Mariachi, right down to the Donkey noises towards the end. The variation in styles across the songs is wide, but it never stops sounding like an album. Joey Burns and John Convertino’s love of Jazz pops up in the Miles Davis trumpet stylings of ‘Turquoise’. ‘Caldera’ closes the album with something that has more than a touch of The Doors about it and is an effective, if slightly melancholy, coda to the album.
Burns says of the experience of recording ‘El Mirador’ that; “music happens to be my way of building bridges and encouraging inclusiveness and positivity. That comes along with sadness and melancholy, but music sparks change and movement.” And from the opening brass of the title song all the way through to ‘Rancho Azul’ there is a an upbeat positive feel to the songs. The song ‘El Mirador’ is what Santana could sound like if they didn’t have to worry about long guitar solos. The backing vocals from Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and violin step this song away from the ordinary into something at times ethereal.
The only songs that don’t entirely convince are the more indie rock ones. ‘Harness The Wind’ and ‘Then You Might See’ are fine songs and only suffer by comparison with some of the exceptional material elsewhere on the album. ‘El Paso’ is a song that mixes the Indie and a bit of Tex-Mex successfully and points to a road not taken by people like Beck who have played with this sort of sound on a few songs without properly embracing it. ‘Liberada’ approaches the same style from the opposite direction, with the Mexican sounds being sprinkled with things clearly learned from their sometime collaborator Iron and Wine, who also adds vocals elsewhere on the album.
Another frequent collaborator is Pieta Brown, who wrote ‘El Paso’ and ‘Then You Might See.’Another of Burns’ comments on ‘El Mirador’ looks to the stylistic mix that it covers which also reflects the unique social and linguistic intersections at the US-Mexico border “The album is trying to convey openness. Look around you. If you’re in the North, you need a South to live in balance. We’re all breathing together”
2022 is turning into another vintage year for music. It’s April and there are already multiple contenders for album of the year. Calexico have added another. December will be a difficult month.
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