February 18, 2003

Album Review

Feast of Wire does indeed offer a tantalizing array of sounds new and old from Calexico, including more pop-oriented takes on their already eclectic style as well as some different sonic twists. Though the album features plenty of the atmospheric interludes of their previous work -- such as the squelchy, piano-based "Stucco" and the cello- and pedal-steel-driven "Whipping the Horse's Eye" -- the overall feel of Feast of Wire is one of restraint and refinement. The album's longest song, the gorgeous, film noir/spaghetti western fusion "Black Heart," tops out at just under five minutes, and the vast majority of the tracks barely make it past the three-minute mark -- not enough time for experimentation to turn into self-indulgence. However, it feels like these shorter compositions have more impact: "Sunken Waltz" sketches a vignette of Southwestern despair with just acoustic guitar, brushed drums, accordion, and Joey Burns' papery vocals. Burns' voice plays a larger part on Feast of Wire than on previous Calexico albums, adding a humble charm to sweeping songs like "Quattro (World Drifts In)." Despite its seeming limitations, Burns' small, parched-sounding instrument is surprisingly versatile, lending a Dylan-like cast to the aforementioned "Black Heart" and a Dean Wareham-like drawl to the lilting Tex-Mex melody of "Across the Wire." Burns' vocals also dominate Feast of Wire's most uniquely accessible moments: "Stevie Nicks," a surprisingly, sunny bit of folk-rock, and the quiet, alt-country-ish "Woven Birds." But despite the steps forward Calexico makes on this album, the band still has time for their more traditional, instrumental-based music, exemplified here by "Dub Latina," "Pepita," and "Guero Canelo." The second half of Feast of Wire in particular sounds more like what you'd expect from a Calexico album, and the group touches on the different facets of that style, including the kitschy-cool "Attack el Robot! Attack," which with its crunchy drums and gurgling synths, does sort of sound like it could be from a Mexican sci-fi movie; the shuffling Latin beat, pedal steel, and mod horns on "Close Behind" give it a Morricone-meets-mariachi feel that makes it a quintessential Calexico track; and best of all, "Crumble" builds on the smoky, jazzy side of their sound that they began developing in earnest on The Hot Rail. In the hands of a lesser band, all the different sounds Calexico explore on Feast of Wire could result in a mish-mash of an album, but fortunately for them and their fans, it's one of their most accomplished and exciting efforts.
Heather Phares, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Sunken Waltz
  2. Quattro (World Drifts In)
  3. Stucco
  4. Black Heart
  5. Pepita
  6. Not Even Stevie Nicks...
  7. Close Behind
  8. Woven Birds
  9. The Book and the Canal
  10. Attack el Robot! Attack!
  11. Across the Wire
  12. Dub Latina
  13. Güero Canelo
  14. Whipping the Horse's Eyes
  15. Crumble
  16. No Doze