20. Calexico: El Mirador

No other album this year has got inside my head and transported me to another place quite like Calexico’s El Mirador. This heady brew of Latin American desert-rock is an absolute joy to behold.

I have to confess, I wasn’t familiar with the output of Tucson-originating Calexico before this year. My loss. I absolutely love – and I use that word intentionally – this album. Throughout the summer, I spent hours, every day, losing myself in this wonderful collection of Arizona-noir (thank you, Jonathan Frahm) tunes.

Band mainstays Joey Burns and John Convertino may have relocated to Boise and El Paso, but they returned home to Tucson to record El Mirador at bandmate Sergio Mendoza’s home studio. That warm sense of homecoming, the feel of being surrounded by family and friends, is all over this album. You get a sense that the protagonists truly loved making it.

When I listen to El Mirador, I feel like Harry Dean Stanton at the beginning of Paris, Texas. I close my eyes and I can feel the arid heat. In my mind, I can see roads as straight as a die cutting a swath through the barren desert. Above me, vast, cloudless skies stretch endlessly. Sometimes, I am carried to a cantina that implausibly resides in the middle of nowhere. Here I can quench my thirst. And when the sun goes down, there’s tequila for all and dancing and strings of garishly coloured lights.

And to accompany us, there are these wonderful songs. Check out the instrumental, Turquoise. Close your eyes and let yourself go. Or if you want to go somewhere different down by the southwest, take Cumbia Peninsula. This glorious song with rampant mariachi and the permeating voice of Jairo Zavala swings magnificently. Another cumbia – Cumbia del Polvo – is an absolute fiesta, as is The El Burro Song. Opening track El Mirador is percussive and rhythmic and sashaying. Liberada evokes the glory of Buena Vista Social Club. I could go on. There are no bad tunes on this love letter to the border.

El Mirador is an album that makes me feel happy. It makes me feel warm inside. It makes me want to dance and sing out loud in Spanish. It makes me wonder how Calexico can get to a tenth album and I haven’t heard any of the previous nine. That feels negligent. Don’t follow me. Stop what you’re doing on listen to El Mirador. Your day will be a helluva lot brighter.

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