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Calexico: well-connected darlings of the Southwestern sound in the folk sect of indie rock. They're nearing 20 years of releases now, and it reflects blindingly well in their songwriting. Edge of the Sun, despite its gloomy cover art, is sunshiny and bright until the end. They touch on southern mythology, Mexicali digressions, and a carefully whispered, foreboding future. These elements play separately and frustratingly in spite of one another. What's performed is written well from cover to cover, but what glues the pieces together is vacant.

'Falling From the Sky' contains crisp horns and uplifting lyrics: "What do you feel when you're all alone?" wails Joey Burns at the end of the choruses, giving way to a bouncy tambourine-bridge that could easily have gone on through the rest of the song. Instead, we end precisely how we began. I'm wishing I was there when they decided on the form of these tracks: a guilty concession. I trust this band's discography and cast, but can't shake the feeling that the music is impossible to dislike; that I've been tricked into listening to something neither bad nor great in the dreaded "good" range.

'Tapping on the Line' is Gibbard-era indie complete with drum machine. The strings that enter about halfway through are gorgeous, but aren't given rightful time to shine underneath the lyrics. The result is soothing, but is just short of excellent despite Neko Case howling prettily somewhere in the back. 'Cumbia de Donde' comes after and kills the mood with a distended mariachi punch of stark synths and "trouble in Tijuana." I can't ignore the songs listenability and pastiche, but can barely stand its place in the track list. Indeed, the following 'Miles From the Sea' jumps right back into calm with a swimming guitar over a nice 6/8 feel. This track also connects lyrically to the first track with its "dreams about falling from the sky through the sea."

Calexico do hurdle genres with considerable smoothness through the next two tracks: 'Coyoacán', a district of Mexico City that inspired some of Edge of the Sun, sprawls out like a desert trip to metropolis revealing 'Beneath the City of Dreams' which, finally, has a change in pulse as the chorus kicks in with inviting Spanish response vocals. The snare drops out for a phrase or two, inviting the singers to say their peace. This moment is bolstered by the fact that almost all of Edge of the Sun has static percussion leading to the songs ends, which generally happen right as I'm starting to feel something. 'Tapping' and 'Miles' are both culprits.

With so much bright and optimistic sound, final tracks 'World Undone' and 'Follow the River' bring a much needed solemnity and sadness. Burns picks out elements of nature in his lyrics as if to apologize on 'World' before full drums, shakers, and violins eat the track away. Here and on disappointingly few other places, he doesn't sing over the rest of the instrumentation so much as coolly invite each piece to join. He's fairly out of steam as 'Follow' closes things out with a subdued guitar and some plucked piano. Words fail, and simple "ooooohs" close out the record with a head-scratching question of where it began. The absent message doesn't give way to heavy meaning.

Edge of the Sun is propped by its best tracks. As Sam Beam helps unfold an urgent story over a chilling bounce on 'Bullets & Rocks', I feel strongly as if a consistent lyrical theme is out there. After several spins, I'm only finding this on 'Miles', and wish that I could paint more of a complete narrative picture of what I've been listening to. The ideas are fleshed out so well sometimes, and it's upsetting that I have to wait until 'City' to once again get to a place where the records conciseness is shared with its depth.

If the plan was to get some songs out in order to tour them, I'll gladly go see the show. At the end of the day, these guys are vets, and the songwriting and shiny production reflect that on 'Bullets', 'City', and 'World Undone'. It's just difficult to keep this in mind as Calexico take me to the desert where ideas and revelations are born, but end up leaving me there without room to share and express them with clarity and nuance - kind of like the shadowy figure on the cover.

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