Calexico’s Happy-Sad Sun
When a band’s been around for 20-plus years, it’s a safe bet the members know what they’re doing. They’ve had time to hone their sound and — with any luck — grow as artists. They also run the risk of growing stale. Calexico has managed to avoid the latter fate while still nesting in their comfort zone on Edge of the Sun, their ninth studio album. Sun is about disconnect — from friend, lovers, society and oneself. Lyrically, it’s something of a downer focusing on loss, failed ventures, and missed opportunities. Musically, it expresses some optimism. Edge of the Sun is a happy-sad album.
Calexico’s comfort zone is mid-tempo alt-rock fusing occasional Latin rhythms and Spanish guitar with their sound, earning them the descriptor “Tex-Mex.” Sun is firmly within these bounds: “Cumbia Donde,” “Coyoacan Theme,” “Beneath the City of Dreams” and “Moon Never Rises” all borrow from Spanish and Latin cultures.
The lyrical disconnect kicks in almost right away. “Bullets and Rocks” is a minor key saunter through an empty, wasted future. “When the Angels Played” is about watching a friend miss the forest for the trees, and “Tapping on the Line” finds the narrator “in exile” while means of communication break down. And we’re only a third of the way through the album.
Hispanic guest artists including Amparo Sanchez keep things interesting, as do surprise change-ups like the unexpected country ballad “Woodshed Waltz.” The lyrical doom never overcomes the music, striking a balance throughout. Just as things are the bleakest with penultimate track “World Undone,” a quiet, near-dirge, a flicker of hope appears on the finale “Follow the River.” Though the narrator is “surrounded by the emptiness of everything, everyone,” by the refrain he resolves, “I’m not giving up / I’m getting there.” It’s not much compared to hopelessness of the previous 11 songs, but it’s just enough to keep the listener from going over the edge.