Calexico, "The Thread That Keeps Us" (Anti-Records)
If the atomic scientists were listening to music when they recently moved the Doomsday Clock up to just two minutes to midnight, it may well have been Calexico's "The Thread That Keeps Us." Poignantly apocalyptic in places but with glimmers of hope and romance, the album would also be ideal for moving the hands of the clock a few minutes farther from disaster, hopefully soon.
Now a septet, the Tucson-based Calexico recorded their ninth studio album in northern California and the change has done them good. Singer/guitarist Joey Burns says "there's a little more chaos and noise in the mix" but, if anything, those elements help consolidate the harmony among the sounds.
Opener and first single "End of the World With You" starts like a 1987 U2 song with a touch of The Replacements and sets the tone with mentions of "the age of extremes." The next couple of tracks, "Voices in the Field" and "Bridge to Nowhere" appear to reference the California fires, while the slouching, funky "Under the Wheels" is even darker, worried about "the war machine/always someone else's scheme."
The Latin influences stay close to the surface on several tunes but rise up on "Flores Y Tamales," a bittersweet tale in Spanish about love and dreams difficult to fulfill. Three brief instrumentals keep with the mood — "Shortboard" is the most effective and "Unconditional Waltz" the most melodic.
Some tracks toward the end sound a bit scattered but emotional closer "Music Box" synthesizes the sentiments expressed across the rest of the album — "When the world goes dark/I'll always be close by."
Calexico taps into the calamity of the times on "The Thread That Keeps Us," but finds that not all of the tapestry is in tatters.