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Feast of Wire (Quarterstick)

It doesn't stretch the imagination much to use pedal steel and maracas to evoke the landscape of the Southwest -- rocky desert, border towns -- but the remarkable thing about Calexico has always been the way Joey Burns and John Convertino tread beyond the clichés of their band's country-and-mariachi instrumentation in order to grasp at the spirit in that arid soil.

Calexico's latest is pretty much composed of the same base elements that made the band's previous effort, The Hot Rail, such a sad but thrilling ride, though the mood has shifted slightly. Even the most ambient tracks on The Hot Rail had a desperado momentum, and the album's sequencing (a Hazlewood-esque ballad followed by a spaced-out instrumental followed by a mariachi interlude) also suggested going somewhere, anywhere. But on Feast of Wire, the mariachi and post-rock rhythms are more integrated into the songwriting, making the album feel both looser and more seamless. There's a stillness to even the most driving tracks. By the end, the songs are all languorous and open-ended; everything settles into a sense of rest -- a little uneasy, to be sure, but placid nonetheless. It's still sad, but God, it's beautiful.

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