Calexico – Garden Ruin

Calexico have cast aside their familiar mariachi brass and pedal steel atmospherics in favour of a more straightforward, song-based approach on fifth album Garden Ruin.

Last year's successful collaboration with folk tunesmith Iron and Wine appears to have encouraged Arizona's Calexico to cast aside their familiar mariachi brass and pedal steel atmospherics in favour of a more straightforward, song-based approach on fifth album Garden Ruin.

The Morricone-influenced instrumental epics of earlier recordings have been replaced by melodic, jangly country-rock numbers such as opener "Cruel", together with a sizeable dose of electric guitar on heavier tracks like "Letter To Bowie Knife".

Only on "Roka (Danza De La Muerte)", featuring Andalucian singer Ampara Sanchez, and the Gotan Project-style modern tango of "Nom De Plume" are Calexico's Latin inflections allowed to take a front seat. Elsewhere, while their trademark violins, trumpets and shuffling percussion do flit unobtrusively in and out of the mix throughout, the band's variety of textures and moods has been significantly pared down in search of a more accessible but ultimately less interesting sound. One could argue that thislack of variety hasbeen replaced by a stronger set of songs than their earlier efforts.

Longer term listening leads to greater enjoyment and rewards.

Beautiful matt gatefold cover with lyrics printed within and extra artwork on the inner sleeve also. The packaging is a work of art in itself. Decent weight vinyl and well pressed. And the usual very good Calexico sound. Possibly a bit clinical but deep and well rounded.

Sigur Ros -Takk

The very first thing you notice is the sheer weight of the package. Housed in a a thick cardboard gatefold sleeve this is vinyl luxury at its finest. I thought I was going to end up with two 200grm vinyl slabs but not only was the outer sleeve sumptuous but there was an inner sleeve for each record too. The vinyl itself was probably 160grm, strong and nicely pressed. Only caveat was that these are cardboard sleeves and some of the extraneous cuttings had made their way onto the vinyl and could be heard during playback.

Another sexy touch is what is I guess the equivalent of the hidden track on a CD. There is an extra 10″ record hidden in the packaging, a third mini sleeve in the middle, a cut out of a bird revealing the black vinyl underneath. A 10″ record with one track and an engraving on the flipside. Even if you hate the music Sigur Ros create its still a good idea to buy this record and either hang it on the wall or show it off to your friends. I’ve never seen a CD package to resemble it.

And the music. Well its Icelandic! If that’s not enough, there are shades of Bjork without any of the dance inflections. Although I’ve been aware of Sigur Ros for years this is the first album I own by them. A brief flirtation with an early 12″ never led to anything more. But repeated insistence by friends who are big fans led to my purchase of Takk. And the packaging certainly didn’t put me off.

Its ethereal, dreamy, glacial etc. It is beautiful though. And as you’ve no doubt heard most of the singing is sung in a made up language called Hopelandish. Unlike the Cocteau Twins whom the above description could refer to it seems to have been created by real instruments with an unprocessed voice. And I believe it is an analogue recording.

The sound quality is excellent. I was a bit put off at the start because there were bits of paper from the packaging getting in the way but these have more or less disappeared and the sound is really good. The only thing negative is that his voice sometimes grates on hitting the high notes and well the price.