The Crystal Frontier

Digging through a stack of records that need filing the other night, mainly made up of ones bought this year and last, I found the latest Calexico album (The Thread That Keeps Us), an album that I played a couple of times back in January but found to be a bit dull overall. Which was a shame because the two songs that preceded it were both really good- Voices In The Fields and End Of The World With You– responses to Trump’s America and a band sounding reinvigorated. The rest of the album seemed less good but maybe I should go back to it.

Back in 2000 Calexico released an ep called Even My Sure Things Fall Through, a collection of B-sides and extras. They were more Tex-Mex at this point, songs with mariachi horns and central American rhythms, the sort of songs that sound intriguing when caught in snatches through a tinny radio or open doorway and irresistible when played loud and close up. Crystal Frontier is a blast. Try it.

Crystal Frontier (Widescreen Version)

The song was inspired by a novel of the same name by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, a book that explores the lives of people who straddle the border between the US and Mexico, people going to and fro, back and forth, living on both sides of the line.

Since its release 18 years ago the song has taken on an extra life- it was chosen to be beamed into the space shuttle Discovery to wake the crew up. NASA picked the song up from a recommendation by Tucson, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (whose husband Mark Kelly was the shuttle Commander). Gabrielle Giffords was later one of the victims of a gunman, shot in the head at a public appearance, along with twenty-four other people, six of whom were killed. She recovered to some extent and returned to Congress to vote in 2011. She has since retired from Congress but is an advocate of gun reform.

There On The Beach, I Could See It In her Eyes

After writing about them at the weekend I’ve been thinking about Minutemen a bit this week, digging out some of the records and cds, thinking about an ICA for The Vinyl Villain and then it occurred to me that I could tie together two of this week’s posts quite neatly.

One of the Minutemen’s key songs is Corona (off Double Nickels on The Dime but more famous as the theme tune to Jackass. Let’s try to ignore tattooed MTV idiots stapling their arms and scrotums and focus on the song). D Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley all wrote lyrics for the songs. Inspired and turned on by punk rock they decided early on that they would write lyrics that meant something. D Boon wrote Corona after a trip to Mexico.

Mike Watt can explain the song better than I can- ‘Corona is very heartfelt. D. Boon wrote that one on a trip to Mexico. After all the drinking and the partying, the morning after, there’s a lady picking up bottles, to turn them in to get monies for her babies… it really touched him. Music was personal with us, it’s how we were together, and then the [punk] movement let us do it in front of people. The movement was so inclusive, and it seemed that if you wanted in, you had to bring something original – it was kind of a toll. And for D. Boon, I remember him telling people, “Okay, whatever we play, it sounds like the Minutemen”. And that’s what I hear in Corona.There’s a little Mexico in there, it’s got a little ‘thinking out loud’ – what D. Boon called our lyrics. Like, D. Boon’s thinking about what’s going on here: we’re having a party at the beach, and this lady, by using the empty Corona bottle – it’s not like D. Boon liked Corona beer! – no, she’s using that bottle to help. So there’s a real connection there. That’s why I really like Corona – it’s a strange mixture of things, but to me it’s the nice things about the Minutemen’.

There’s so much about this 2 minute 25 second song- the Mexican riff at the start followed by the trebly guitars and double time drumming, the fizz and buzz of the bass, D Boon’s punk poetics- he manages to say so much with so few words-

‘The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness of our south
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness of our south
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit’

Corona

In 2003 Calexico put out their fourth album, Feats Of Wire, the one that brought all the pieces together with some career high points. One edition of the cd came with some bonus tracks, including a cover of Corona, a pretty logical song for them to cover. Calexico slow it down a bit and add some lovely mariachi horns

Track 32 (Corona)

While looking for a picture for this post I found this image of a pair of SST labelmates, pictured in front of a poster of Husker Du’s 1984 double album, D Boon (who died the following year when their tour van crashed) and Grant Hart (drummer of Husker Du, who died this year of cancer).

End Of The World With You

Last week Walter posted a new song by Calexico. I used to listen to Calexico a lot, back in the first decade of this century, but we drifted apart a couple of albums ago. I reached a point where I couldn’t take any more Americana, I’d had my fill. But the song Walter posted last week was good, their Tex-Mex vibe is still there but with a driving guitar riff and something else- an intent and a focus, kicking out, a response to events. It comes ahead of an album in January, The Thread That Keeps Us.

On tracking back I found out that they put out a new single back in October too, another trailer for the forthcoming album. End Of The World With You has a driving twangy guitar line, an Ameri-indie feel and lyrics about the ‘love in the age of extremes’. Trump. Far right extremism. Gotta keep pushing back against this and Calexico’s response sounds alright to me.

Calexican

A total change of pace and style today, a beautiful instrumental from Calexico’s debut album proper The Black Light from back in 1998- catgut guitar strings, rim shots, trumpets. They went on to make several really good albums after this but I played The Black Light the other night and it sounded like their best and most effortless record.

Minas de Cobre

Not Even The Priestess

I asked on Twitter on Saturday night if anyone had heard the new Calexico album (Algiers) and Simon said he wouldn’t listen to them because of their name and Drew said he’d never heard them either and was he missing anything. Their early stuff like The Black Light was great, all slow-mo spaghetti and mariachi influenced stuff, a lot of instrumentals. A couple of albums in they became more song based, with more vocals- Hot Rail from 2000 and Feast Of Wire from 2003 were crackers, full of songs with beauty and drama and horns. At some point more recently (the Garden Ruin lp from 2006, which isn’t that recent really) they abandoned the more Tex-Mexican side of things for a straighter, more mainstream US indie-noir sound which seemed far less interesting to me. So, I’m no nearer to knowing whether the new one is any good but to Drew and Simon and anyone else who hasn’t heard them, start with this one- a song concerning a man about to drive his car over a cliff while listening to Stevie Nicks.

Not Even Stevie Nicks

>Five Cent Deposit

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Calexico’s 2003 album Feast Of Wire was some kind of career highpoint, featuring the very lovely Just Like Stevie Nicks… among other songs. The cd came with three extra songs, one of them being this one- Corona. It might not be the best thing they ever recorded but it’s a cover of a song by San Pedro post-punk-funk heroes Minutemen, so it can’t be all bad. It even just about survived becoming the theme tune to Jackass, that programme where grown men pushed each other over and laughed.

Bodies Are Missing For Weeks

I got bored to the back teeth with alt-country years ago, but Calexico can often rustle up something good. This 2001 single is stunning and a million miles away from a dusty, croaky singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar- mariachi horns with indie/alt country lyrics and vocals. Spaghetti Western music you can dance to.

crystal-frontier.mp3