Although I'm one of those people who have enjoyed some of their sideways jaunts (including the remixed work on the Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP), I was also a bit disappointed in the past two full-lengths as a whole (Feast Of Wire and Garden Ruin) from Calexico. I've been following the group for some time now, and while each of those releases had their individual moments, neither felt particularly cohesive and at the same time indulged in some of the worst tendencies from the group. Their collaboration with Iron & Wine on In The Reins seemed like a nicely-inspired move, though, so it seemed like it was only a matter of time before they were back on the right path.
With Carried To Dust, the group is right back in their element and have at the same time created what is quite possibly the most straightforward album in their history. There are a load of the usual collaborations (with vocalists as well as different musicians) but the fifteen song, forty-five minute album has an incredibly concise and cohesive feel. It kicks off with "Victor Jara's Hands" and only continues on the lush "Two Silver Trees," which spills through a lush setting of electric guitar, accordion drones, glockenspiel and drum flourishes that along with understated vocals from Joey Burns give it a slyly dynamic feel. "House Of Valparaiso" reprises the collaboration with Sam Beam, and it sounds just as good this time out as it did the first time around, with strong vocal harmonies that are hinted at around the edges by subtle horns and the usual lush instrumentation from the group.
It's not that the group doesn't move completely outside their more standard sound, as "Inspiracion" finds them teaming up with Amparo Sanchez for a song entirely in Spanish as a skronky synth and horns give things a rough, but seductive feel. As I mentioned above, one of the best things about Carried To Dust is that while the group has a couple short sidetracks, they're kept to a minimum. There's only a single song over four minutes on the release (the woozy album closer), and everything else doesn't feel a second too long. There's nothing huge and loud here, but Burns has settled into his own as a vocalist, and understated numbers like the bristling "Red Blooms" show that the group is still quite capable of creating wide expanses of amazing atmosphere. It's a great return to form from the group, and easily their best full length since they've started incorporating vocals on nearly every song.