Hot Rail

...we find their wide-screen grandeur and igneous spirit at its brightest...

Hot Rail

8 / 10 We arrive at Calexico's rattletrap retreat seeking quiet deliverance from the tumult of the everyday. We want to kick off our troubles and bask in the duo's warm Western glow; to revel in the spaghetti splendour of their mariachi sunsets and shimmering, tumbleweed dawns. We want peace, relaxation; a snake-oil rubdown, perhaps, and a cold bottle of beer. We don't get them, though. What Calexico - Arizona dreamers Joey Burns and John Convertino - do proffer, however, is a far more unsettling experience; a kind of Peckinpah-directed Let's Pretend, where they hand us the canvas (huge, sprawling, mysterious) and let us do the cerebral brushwork.

Like all the finest sonic ranchers (Ry Cooder, Lambchop, etc), Calexico know there are far greater emotional kicks to be scored from the hidden details - vague suggestions, knowing silences - than the broader, more obvious strokes. Correspondingly, their third album 'Hot Rail' is a vividly ocular, largely instrumental journey, taking in everything from blazing dustbowl showdowns ('El Picador') and fitful beatnik wig-outs ('Sonic Wind'), to ponderous, near-ambient country rambles ('Ritual Road Map'). So evocative are 'Hot Rail''s cinematic vistas, in fact, that when a 'proper' song (y'know - words, voices, that sort of thing) occasionally pops its bonce above the sonic parapet, it seems almost an intrusion - a cruel reminder that we're not sharp-shootin' desert drifters after all and that reality is, in fact, waiting outside to cosh us senseless.

Not that these 'proper' tunes are in any way inferior, mind. Indeed, the lost-highway lurch of 'Drenched' ("Roads never lead where they're supposed to go"), for one, sports enough woozy melodrama to rub ribs with Kurt Wagner. But Calexico truly triumph when the clear-cut is jettisoned in favour of misted-up suggestion; when the expected is snubbed and the imagination roams free. It's then - when tussling with Morricone on the marvellous 'Tres Avisos' or stalking Ry Cooder's dust-blown farmstead on the title track - that we find their wide-screen grandeur and igneous spirit at its brightest. It is, as someone once said, one helluva journey.

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