Ever since 1996 when Calexico released their debut album Spoke [Quarter Stick] they have focused on a wide array of musical influences to infuse into their own uniquely eerie sound. Garden Ruin [Quarter Stick], Calexico’s latest album, seems to be their attempt to stray away from their culturally diverse, free form, mariachi, jazz sound that they have worked hard to develop, and , instead, break their sound down and concentrate on vocal melodies, rock tonalities, and well-constructed pop tunes. The after effect of their stripped down sound is a downright Poe-esque and brilliantly horrific feel that takes you straight onto the dank, rustic pages of an old original Poe masterpiece.
Calexico’s brand of folk pop, manned by the core members John Convertino and Joey Burns, sends unnerving messages through Burns’s quivering vocals and conveys a strong sense of hopelessness in brilliant arrangements of intertwining instruments and harmonies. The best example of this is the French number entitled “Nom de Plume” with a minimalist approach to instrumentalism and soft, searing, spoken word vocals. The quaint horror portrayed in the first few seconds of disturbingly solitary drumming on the track let you know that this song will be one disconcerting trip.
The album’s lack of stand-out anthem-like songs is not necessarily a bad thing. Calexico manages to bring the listener in with a constant flow of solidly put together gloomy tracks, and then escort them through one of the more defeatist tales a band could tell. This album morosely depicts the goings on in the depressed, incest, absinthe filled brain of Edger Allan Poe, and takes you on a guided tour of the hillsides there.
This album is not for those looking to groove and shake their bootays, but for those looking for a truly magnificent, full, and a wholly creepy and intriguing tale of despair. A tale of the fruitless return of a once plentiful earth…Garden Ruin.