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Wednesday, August 23, 2017 
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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Rafael Toral - Space
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+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
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+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
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+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
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+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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Calexico
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Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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After roughly a year of touring with traditional singer/songwriters — Sam Beam and Death Vessel, to name two — the band has throttled back on its genre-crossing experiments and delivered a cohesive musical statement. There is nothing here as shockingly gorgeous as "Black Heart" from Feast of Wire, nothing as wonderfully propulsive as "Quattro (World Drifts In)", but also no captivating oddities (except, perhaps, the French-noir mutterings of "Nom de Plume"). Instead Garden Ruin consists of 11 structured songs, hinting at rock, folk, country, Latin and jazz, but never going off the deep end into any single genre. It's a disciplined work, less thrilling than Feast of Wire or the Convict Pool EP, but more resolutely on message.

The message is, not surprisingly, quite political, in an allusive, poetic way. Opener "Cruel" (which sounds a good deal like "Convict Pool") sets the tone with verses like "Cruel, heartless reign/Chasing short-term gains/Right down to the warning signs" — about as concise an indictment of Dubya and pals as you can imagine. The words gain heft from the musical setting, an interlocking web of percussion, piano, glockenspiel and brass, that supports a sweeping cinematic melody. The song ends in a beautiful interval of criss-crossing wordless singing, simple as the rest of the song was complicated. Later, in "Deep Down" the band considers personal responsibility in the new robber-baron era, with lyrics like "Be a good example, show your new tricks/ And while you're out there they'll make the pitch/ To rally the troops and make a huge contribution/ To help push this through/ Deep down you know it's evil/ You've always known it's evil."

There's significantly less Latin influence in Garden Ruin than on previous records — just one song, really, that carries the mariachi stamp. That one, "Roka (Danza de la muerta)," is a highlight, as Burns trades vocals with Amparo Sanchez, a dusky alto'd Spanish singer sometimes called the female Manu Chao. Like "Across the Wire," the song describes the terrible underside of our current national immigration debate — the hundreds, maybe thousands of immigrants who attempt to cross the border and die in the attempt. Tense with vibrating guitar notes, driven by rim-shot drum rhythms, embellished with horns and jazz-Latin piano riffs, the song alternates between Burns' whispered intensity and Sanchez's rich, emotive vibrato.

A few of the songs are more personal, stripped down and perhaps influenced by touring with Iron & Wine. "Yours and Mine" reduces the band to essence, just Convertino and Burns, with the guitar kicking in only after the first minimal verse. You notice mostly how beautiful Burns' voice is, how transparently it conveys emotion, with just the barest ornamentation around it. "Panic Open String" is lighter, skittering over its melody with breathless falsettos, though it seems, like many of the songs, to be about love in ominous times. And "Smash," maybe the best of the lyrically personal songs, is all dark insinuation, building suddenly to piano-heavy catharsis, and subsiding to a whisper again.

Garden Ruin has some wonderful songs, alongside a few ("Bisbee Blue" and "Lucky Dime") that seem disappointingly conventional. In the end, this record feels kind of like a Calexico for Dummies, the band's best attributes laid out PowerPoint style in big bold letters, its harder-to-categorize music left out for simplicity. My feeling is that you can't get to great songs like "Black Heart" or "Not Even Stevie Nicks" or "Convict Pool" without going down a lot of blind alleys first. Garden Ruin sticks to the main road and takes few chances.


by Jennifer Kelly




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