With the recent uproar about immigration and other issues on the U.S./Mexico border, the timing couldn't be more perfect for the new album by Calexico, the multinational collective (members hail from both the United States and Germany) founded by Tucson residents Joey Burns and John Convertino. However, Garden Ruin sees the band stepping away from their much-ballyhooed border sound, mostly forgoing the cryptic border imagery and mariachi horns of 2003's stellar Feast of Wire in favor of the airy pop classicism the band previously flirted with on tracks such as "Not Even Stevie Nicks" and their cover of Love's "Alone Again Or." "Bisbee Blue" takes its name from the turquoise mine near Bisbee, Arizona, mating a '70s pop shuffle to socially conscious lyrics about urban sprawl and "old towns falling," while upbeat numbers like "Cruel" and "Letter to a Bowie Knife" show Convertino to be as equally adept at rock drumming as he is with the more complex rhythms of jazz. But it's closer "All Systems Red," with its apocalyptic lyrics and cacophony of stinging guitars, that may be their best attempt at rock yet. But despite the nearly uniform excellence of the tracks here, Ruin's mostly mellow song cycle never reaches the energetic highs of Calexico's live show. And while the change in their sound is refreshing, it sure is hard not to miss those mariachi horns right about now.
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