Calexico Garden Ruin

The gross simplification about Calexico’s fifth album is that it finds Joey Burns and John Convertino putting the mariachi horns to rest and rocking out instead. Garden Ruin does mark a move away from Calexico’s decidedly "non-rockist” approach of the past, particularly the track "Letter to Bowie Knife,” which features a huge rock riff, power chords and a driving beat: three things that were anathema on previous records. But thankfully that doesn’t derail much of what makes this band so magical. Their delicate approach to texture works almost as well here as it does in their less conventional material, though at times it sounds more like hesitant reserve than it does tasteful restraint. The two most obvious pop songs, "Cruel” and "Deep Down,” also contain the most direct lyrical laments about life in America under King Bush II. Burns and Convertino still dip south of the border on tracks like "Nom de Plume” and "Roka,” featuring elements of Mexican folk, but not the blistering trumpets that ran the risk of being a cliché crutch in Calexico’s toolbox. With their recent indie rock crossover thanks to the EP and tour with Iron & Wine, Garden Ruin is a perfectly timed career move, intentional or not — though ultimately it sounds more like a detour or a transitory stage in the evolution of a band who thrives on left turns. (Quarterstick)