The heart of Calexico, Arizonians Joey Burns and John Convertino, have always played music which is difficult to nail down into one category or another. Like the border town from which their name originates, Calexico's music is a mish-mash blend of California and Mexico, Western and spaghetti western, good and evil, grounded and uprooted.
Some might get the idea that the "Mexican" influence means Calexico's music sounds like a failed Taco Bell ad campaign, colorful tacos and sombreros mandatory. They'd be dead wrong. It's more like the self-assured, world-wise output of Chile's storied and excellent Inti-Illimani---based upon certain elements, but ever steering the ship into uncharted waters---or the alternative soundtrack to Tarantino's awful Kill Bill movies (no offense to Morricone intended).
Perhaps the defining Calexican moment was singing and dancing along with their "Sunken Waltz" (from 2003's near-flawless Feast of Wire), a modern folk-pop fairytale about a maverick who builds a machine to sink California into the Pacific Ocean. Carried to Dust's opening cut, "Victor Jara's Hands," crackles with the same experimental folk energy. Expert Latin horns and drumwork infuse it with an elusive mystique uncommon to folk Americana. Elsewhere, slower cuts like "Falling From Sleeves" or the closing "Contention City" deliver more pastoral vibes.
The album is a "return to non-form" of sorts, as Feast of Wire was the biggest step outside of a comfort zone evident on other Calexico records, with tracks like the introductory subsonic rumbling of "Pepita," or the truly unique "Quattro (World Drifts In)." Nothing on Carried to Dust quite matches up to these moments in terms of strangeness, but it is certainly a more varied and gratifying effort than the lackluster Garden Ruin (2006).
Fans of this intoxicating blend of playing Frankenstein with American folk rock may also enjoy the oddity of Slim Cessna's Auto Club or Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots, purveyors of a rollicking new "Denver sound"---a heady mixture of spooky Americana and psychopunk/rockabilly.