Album Review: Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us [City Slang/Anti- Records; January 2018]

Chicano / Mexican rock today is a long list of formidable bands which have produced memorable albums and songs. Calexico, a band from Arizona on LA’s Anti- Records, is such a band – one that has outed itself from the shadow of typical mass-rock to sculpt marvel works.

Their new album, The Thread That Keeps Us, is full of force – a rock pulse that stirs the crowds, but also a sort of communitarian elegance rooted in an understanding of past and present. To quote Mexican philosopher Luis Villoro: there are two ways to build a community – around affection and/or tradition.

The Thread That Keeps Us is a call to action, or at least a reminder to be humane at living an artful life. ‘End of the World’, an epic poem put to rock, speaks of: “love in the age of the extremes”, and sings of: “scattering the myths, and walk to the start of the end with you”, as guitars blare forth. The singer’s vocal style is familiar, classical even. ‘Voices in The Field’ is next, with more distortion, and much more experimental rhythm. The lyrics are poetry, epic in style, beginning with an amazing line: “running through fields of flowers and smoke.”

‘Flores y Tamales’ may be one of the greatest songs of this age, an age where caring humans are turning from ideology as a way to build a new society, despite the politicians that still promote this ideology, and thus their unpopularity, to ethics, to new revolution for a new community. ‘Flores y Tamales’ manifests ethics through elegance, combining rock and banda (a Chicano / Mexican traditional music) into a statement one must respect and even celebrate with the cultures of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, who are today victims of the prejudice of the American far-right. It’s spirited, and Calexico’s musicians kindly allow their folly to take over, leaving us filled.

The Thread That Keeps Us is heartfelt art, the sort that is conceived to be a worthy jewel. Song after song is a balance of complex lyrics and rock beat layering. What is the “thread that keeps us”? It seems to be ethics, and art, or a combination of the two – art meaning artistry or a dedication enough for art to convey a sophisticated idea. It sounds like subculture music, of the ethically swinging thousands but what mass culture destroys: reminding us to live a little.

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