Calexico – Black Heart EP

Black Heart EP

For a band whose “official’ album catalogue contains four lengthy entries (i.e. 1997’s Spoke, 1998’s The Black Light, 2000’s Hot Rail, and 2003’s Feast of Wire), and whose “non-official’ output is over double that (through tour-CDs, compilation tracks, singles, and EPs) it seems a tad strange that Calexico’s latest Europe-only EP should be so engorged by remixes, instead of by new or unreleased material. Maybe fresh goodies are being held back for the next self-released web/tour-only collection due later this year or perhaps even for the “proper’ follow-up to Feast of Wire? Whatever the reason, it’s still hard to get excited by a tracklist that boasts no less than five remixes and one album-culled title-track. Realistically, readers, just how many Calexico lovers know or even care what the likes of Jazzanova or the GoTan Project can bring to their beloved band’s already impeccably crafted recordings?
Put preconceptions and prejudices aside for an open-minded hard think though, and the defense lawyers have something to play with, in the old remixes-for-cash debate. First up, Calexico’s highly-rhythmical and heavily-layered song arrangements are ripe for remix reworking, and in the past similar projects have served them very well – particularly on 2000’s highly-desirable Descamino remix 12″. Secondly, the members of Calexico have themselves shown no qualms in blending and bending genres and studio techniques in order to serve artistic impulses, not to coalesce to conservative fans. Bear such mitigating factors in mind, and you’ll find some good enough reasons to add this to your already bulging Calexico collection.
Jörg Follert’s remoulding of Feast of Wire‘s jazzy centrepiece – “Attack El Robot! Attack!” – is especially effective in making the band seem at home in both a hard-bop jazz club as well as in a more adventurous rock establishment. Mexican Robert A. Mendoza reclaims “Güero Canelo” for his homeland by turning up the Latin percussion tenfold for a joyous yet still mysterious hip-shaker. The “iso68” remix of “Pepita” is the kind of thing you might have expected Tortoise to turn in, with its dub-like throb, shuffling drums, and bowed-cello turned up high in the mix – extremely delicious stuff it is too. The GoTan Project’s treatment of “Quattro (Worlds Drift In)” isn’t too bad either, though it does stray a tad too far from the original’s lithe groove with over-fancy electronics, warped accordion sounds and frilly finger-picking. Surprisingly, it’s Jazzanova’s ponderous cliché-ridden make-over of the title-track that lets the side down, but then it can hardly sound good sequenced straight after the stunning original version with its soaring John Barry-style melodramatics. As some recompense though, also included, for those with PC-access, is a superior live video performance version of the same song, which doubles-up as a mouth-watering preview of the forthcoming Calexico DVD, due this spring/summer.
Ultimately, this collection does still feel a little like a contractual-obligation exercise for a band with a preference for spreading material amongst various less-formal outlets, and fans may feel better serviced with the upcoming DVD and/or tour-CD. However, this collection does at least achieve the rare feat that most remix sets cannot. That is, maintaining the band’s inherent magic whilst drawing out ideas that might have otherwise been lost by prolific flurrying. Worth investigating, especially if you count yourself as one of Calexico’s more open-eared followers.