Calexico has been putting out a full-length album every two years for nearly a decade. Although 2003’s Feast Of Wire is still the album to beat, the majority of those releases have been good to great—no small feat for a band of such abundance and longevity. At times, core members Joey Burns and John Convertino have tried to expand the band’s sound by pushing it out of its Tucson, Arizona-based comfort zone; 2012’s Algiers was recorded in New Orleans, resulting in a subtle homage to the Big Easy. The group’s latest, Edge Of The Sun, was recorded partly in Mexico City’s colorful Coyoacán neighborhood. Though the sound on this album is largely a return to mariachi-infused-Americana form, Mexican influence seeps in more strongly than on past releases. Edge Of The Sun picks up where Feast Of Wire left off, and though it fails to blaze a new path, it livens up an old one.
The album is buoyed by guest musicians from Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell to Neko Case, but in most songs, it’s hard to discern their voices or influence. On one hand, this makes for a cohesive album that sounds like Calexico and not a collection of guest voices—but on the other, why invite Neko Case to be on your album if you can barely hear her voice? And this release does sound like a Calexico album, both for better and for worse. 2006’s Garden Ruin was perhaps the band’s furthest step away from its typical sound—horns and mariachis overlaid with pop-noir tunes and desert narratives—resulting in one of the band’s weakest albums as a whole (though it does contain some standout tunes).
On Edge Of The Sun, the band experiments with some poppier tunes, like album opener “Falling From The Sky,” which would sound hackneyed if not for the strong horn section. But Calexico sounds best when it does what it’s always done: Tell stories, translate the American Southwest into song, and have a damn good time doing it. And these are the best bits of Edge Of The Sun: the bright instrumental “Coyoacán”; the Sergio Mendoza-penned “Cumbia De Donde,” which recalls raucous good times of “Güero Canelo” from Feast Of Wire; the twangy “Woodshed Waltz,” in which frontman Joey Burns’ voice surrenders to the slight gravel that creeps into his voice in a somewhat lower register.
Ambience, both aural and visual, has always been important to Calexico, and this album swirls with horns and slide guitar and, on the lovely “Moon Never Rises,” ethereal vocals. Artist Ryan Trayte’s cover art hints at slightly darker themes, though the album would have also been at home in one of Victor Gastelum’s distinct covers of several past albums. The overall picture is as lush and as intricate as ever, but not even the Coyoacán locale fully recharges the music.