About a week ago, I came home around 1 am and all I wanted to do was watch a sad movie. I browsed through all my old videotapes and the only sad movie that i hadn't watched in a while was Clint Eastwood's Honky-tonk Man. Even though this may not be the proper space to discuss such a thing I think highly of Clint Eastwood and even though elitist cinema enthusiast SEB WOOd just won't admit it, The Bridges of Madison County is an impressive film. Maybe he doesn't like Meryl Streep. Or warm tears on his shoulder.
So I watched Honky-tonk Man again, it's the story of a country singer suffering from TB. And Honky-tonk Man is the title of his best song, a song that he will tragically fail to sing entirely during the recording. I enjoyed watching the movie, even though it was probably not sad enough for me that night. I needed a story filled with bitter regrets and faltering desire.
The thing I keep on hearing about Feast of Wire, Calexico's latest album is : "it sounds just like the previous ones" as if it was enough to dismiss it. The only bad thing about this album is the cover, which is aesthetically miles away from the gorgeous Even my Sure Things Fall Through cover. I guess it was easier to like The Black Light or Hot Rail for the latecomers because it sounded timeless and very exotic and it added a lot of charm to the music and the band. And now we've grown used to their music and all that's left is songs. To be frank I never loved any Calexico album in its entirety, apart from Scraping, their tour-only live cd. There were always bits of songs or instrumentals that bothered me here and there. What I like the most about the band is Joey Burns' songs and his warm soft voice. In Feast of Wire he unveils Calexico's most impressive song so far, Black Heart. Burns croons while strings softly underline his sweet singing. I'm only guessing but since both bands have been touring together a few times over the past years Black Heart could very probably be a tribute to The Black Heart Procession. It actually sounds like BHP. I heard a collaboration between the two bands was scheduled sometime this year and if the result sounds close to this song I can't wait to hear it. It's the centerpiece of Feast of Wire, just like Crystal Frontier should have been the centerpiece of Hot Rail.
The album starts with the gorgeous Sunken Waltz which sounds like, well, Honky-tonk Man (the song in the movie). Calexico have never sounded so delicate, Joey Burns has never sung so well and the arrangements are much more discreet. Even the instrumentals sound more concise. A couple of songs are a little too typical to impress, like Across the Wire, Guero Canelo or Close Behind but on the whole one can't help but notice a clear progression: Black Heart succeeds in sounding like Calexico without sounding like the previous albums, The Book and the Canal is very probably my favourite Calexico instrumental so far, piano-driven and softly touching, Attack El Robot! Attack! features bleeps and synthetic sounds, even though I doubt any computer was used for the recording of the album and Crumble is a moody jazz instrumental which sounds like it popped out of a time machine from 1939. The album closes with No Doze, a quiet and delicate ballad.
Unlike Hot Rail, Feast of Wire clearly shows a band moving forwards, and it came close to being the masterpiece we're in the right to expect from such talented musicians but despite a few missteps its cohesion and global quality put it above all their previous albums.
/mar 1st 2003/