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The Thread that Keeps Us – 2018 (Anti-/Epitaph)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Calexico

Few bands epitomize restlessness as much as Calexico. And, fortunately, that restlessness and desire to constantly tweak and even radically alter their sound is one of several traits that make them one of the most consistently creative and enduring bands treading that line between pop and Americana. Calexico brings variety, unpredictability and cinematic imagery, punctuating their songs with social commentary and environmental themes. That's true on "The Thread That Keeps Us," their ninth studio effort. In the spirit of "Algiers" (New Orleans noir) and "Edge of the Sun" (recorded near Mexico City), the band found a spiritual and musical home outside their native Arizona.

This "home" was on the Northern California coast in a house-turned-studio called the Panoramic House. Built from debris and salvaged timber - and dubbed "The Phantom Ship" by the band - it gave a "just-about-to-fall-off-the cliff" feel to the music, a mix of dream state, nightmare and dramatic angst. Calexico also brings more grit and less polish this time around, making the album perhaps their strongest since 2008's "Carried to Dust."

Working with long-time engineer Craig Schumacher, the band co-produced and gathered musicians from all over the world to find a balance between an earthy and expansive, oft other-worldly sound.

The album explores the contrasts between bright and dark and hope and fear as one can even glean from some of these titles: "End of the World With You," Thrown to the Wild," "Bridge to Nowhere" and "Dead in the Water." The latter envisions a monster of sorts with its raging guitar riffs, frantic piano pounding and lyrics that are downright scary. The many aspects of Calexico are found in the middle of the album, from the striking imagery in "The Town & Miss Lorraine" to their early roots groove on the Spanish "Flores y Tamales, to the churning beats and creative use of brass on "Under the Wheels" and "Another Space." The flowing instrumentals, "Unconditional Waltz" and "Shortboard" serve as preludes for the gorgeous, mellow "Girl in the Forest" and the gentle love song for children, "Music Box," which closes the album.

Calexico again brings a highly imaginative array of songs, lyrical moments and stunning soundscapes - at times both haunting and uplifting, joyous and outraged.