Arizona band Calexico's ninth studio album, The Thread That Keeps Us, features hints of the Tejano-tinged "desert noir" sound the band are known for — dreamily and languidly evoking the duo's home state. But where past iterations of the band's sound have been calmly enthralling, the trajectory that the new album takes doesn't come close to the same satisfaction.
The issues start at track one: opening track "End of the World With You" jumps out of the gate with uncharacteristic boisterousness, but quickly morphs into the opposite of something promising. If the cheesy opening lyric ("I thought you were the one") isn't enough to sow doubt, the jaunty chord cycles that sit adjacent to uninspired early '00s pop-rockers like Gavin DeGraw or Daniel Powter (of "Bad Day" infamy).
Followup track "Voices in the Field" fortunately pulls the album back to a more classic Calexico sound, yet still has a niggling familiarity to it, from its solo-heavy guitar to the feeling of the song being an off-brand version of Beirut, right down to the horns. Again, lyrics are a stumbling block, with an insistence on so-vague-they're-meaningless platitudes like "let me hear your voice."
Mercifully, the record shifts from an irritating to a more captivating sound — "Under the Wheels" features an understated introductory beat, with mariachi trumpets lending it just the right kind of weirdness — that's trippy and engaging. Shifting away from psychedelia, "The Town & Miss Lorraine" gives a certain crooning classicism that could comfortably carry a closed-eyed listener away.
Too bad these fine moments are short lived, and The Thread That Keeps Us degenerates into dullness for its second half — "Another Space" could be charitably described as hip-hop-influenced, but it's really just excessively toned-down beat poetry, while "Girl in the Forest" is stock standard bluesy folk. Yet perhaps the worst offender is "Eyes Wide Awake," which both in name and sound seems to just allude to Creed's hideous "Arms Wide Open."
There are some truly enjoyable moments on Calexico's latest — but they're vastly overshadowed by at turns annoying or just boring tracks, bogged down in an overly long record. (Anti)