New Music 1/26/18: Calexico, Dommengang, Math & Physics Club, At the Drive-In

Hot off the presses: new music!

Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us – 22 songs / 67 minutes

Named after the California border town that resides over Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, these lads hold true to their roots.  Over the course of their career, as well as this record, Calexico have sounded simultaneously like two or three different bands.  On one hand, you have the indie-rock ready outfit that gives us songs like “End of the World” or “Dead in the Water”.  On the other hand, you have the Latin-influenced songs that liven up each of their releases, including this one: “Under the Wheels“, “Another Space”, and “Eyes Wide Awake”.  Lastly, you have songs that sound straight out of a Tijuana mariachi ensemble: “Flores y Tamales” (which sounds like a perfect Dos Equis commercial – complete with the original “most interesting man in the world”, and sans Rob Riggle), and “Luna Roja”.

Thus is the allure, brilliance, and frustration that is Calexico.  For years they have been giving us a multifaceted group of songs, seemingly performing as two bands at once.  Their most recent effort, Edge of the Sun, was their strongest, and combined these elements quite well.  Here, it is a mixed bag.

Side note: the instrumental/interludes steal the show on this album.  Give “Spinball”, Shortboard”, “Longboard” a listen and I bet you will agree.

Calexico are capable of giving us numerous sounds in a way that perhaps no other band can do, I just wish they could get it right more consistently.  I will give them this – they seem to be getting closer with each release.  While this effort is hit and miss, it is worth a listen with an open ear.

Key Tracks: “Under the Wheels”, “Longboard”, “End of the World”

 

Dommengang – Love Jail – 10 songs / 40 minutes

These guys play some serious guitar-riff based sonic blasts, with very little time spent on filler. You will be hard pressed to find significant time on this album that is not filled with sludgy and beautiful electric guitar or pounding, rhythmic drumming.  This is not to say that the entire record is without nuance and differentiation: it surely is.  But this is a record made for fans of desert/stoner rock made famous by bands like Kyuss or Fu Manchu, and it delivers.  Riffs for days, with occasional lyrics that I must confess I was indifferent to, as they just weren’t necessary.

Sig Wilson and his comrades clearly have studied the canons of ZZ Top, early Black Keys, and Queens of the Stone Age, as they meander their own path through the aforementioned bands’ already charted territory, with surprising success.  If you are a fan of music that just gets the riff out and lets the chips fall where they may, then just listen to the ridiculous riffage on “Stealing Miles” and “Lovely Place” and call me in the morning.

Even the slower “ballads”, such as the title track or the closer “Stay Together”, hold their own just fine.  In short, these guys know how to rock, and are just waiting for more people to pay attention.

Finally, let’s just discuss the epic instrumental that is “Dave’s Boogie”.  Whoever the hell Dave is, he kicks a lot of ass and takes a lot of names.  Great song, and not a word needed to be spoken.  Rawk on, Dommengagng, rawk on!

Key Tracks: “Stealing Miles”, “Stay Together”, “Lovely Place”

 

Math & Physics Club – Lived Here Before – 11 songs / 34 minutes

For readers of my blog, of which there are admittedly few, you may recognize this band as half of the “supergroup” that was Unlikely Friends.  What we have here is unadulterated rock-guitar pop music, complete with simple riffs aided by singalong and Mom-approved catchy dittys.  In the vein of Real Estate, Surfer Blood, Ducktails, and others, these guys craft short and sweet pop/rock songs out of a simple riff and chorus lyrics.

There are ups and downs on this record, but overall it is an enjoyable easy-listening experience; in fact, I have put this on at bedtime thrice this week and peacefully fallen asleep every time.  I do not say that to talk shit about this band; on the contrary, they have honed their craft quite well, and have a few gems here that should be mentioned.  Mention, I will…

“Like Cinnamon” is one of the more simple songs on the record, musically speaking.  However, the lyrics here caught me off guard.  Charlie Bert is in love, staring longingly at the lady still asleep in his bed.  He puts it pretty plain and simple in the chorus when he says “all the hairs, on the back of my neck; all the hairs, always notice, always notice when you are near”.   You can keep your cheesy two-bit love songs, this is pure instinctual fact: when we are in love, our bodies let us now.  And friends, simple as they may be, truer words have seldom been spoken.

The instrumental “Falling For It”, complete with a great guitar riff and some super catchy bongos, is another highlight.  For two minutes we are taken aside and allowed to enjoy a trip down an Amazonian slacker rock avenue, and I can’t get enough of it.

“Dear Madeline” is the sweetest divorce song I have heard in ages, as we hear the division of assets in a sweet and understanding tone, complete with acoustic guitar strumming.  Maybe Charlie is a pushover, or maybe his former lady is the epitome of a saint on Earth.  Either way, it is quite the song.

Key Tracks: “Like Cinnamon”, “All the Mains Are Down “, “Dear Madeline”

 

At the Drive-In – Diamante (EP) – 3 songs / 10 minutes

Really just a glorified single, perhaps this doesn’t even belong on this post… oh well.  Cedric and Omar hold a very dear space in my musical heart, and when they release music, you had better believe that I pay attention.

After a fifteen-year hiatus, last year’s reunion record, In*ter*alia, was a hit-and–miss return for the ever-talented and influential band.  I surely didn’t anticipate new music from these guys so quickly.  I suppose I assumed that they would move on to their numerous other outlets.  Wrong as I may be, I wish the output was of a higher quality.  This still sounds like an attempt to recapture the raw, unbridled energy that was the essence of ATDI circa In/Casino/Out or Relationship of Command, which is clearly not going to happen.  Although I will admit that “Amid Ethics”comes closest.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a big fan of Cedric Bixler Zavala’s obtuse, scream-o vocal stylings and Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s guitar heroics.  And some new tunes from these guys is better than none at all.  But ATDI, at their heyday – and The Mars Volta that succeeded it – are amongst my favorite musical outlets of the late 90s/early 2000s. With each release, I grow more concerned that the magic has died, and long to go listen to DeLoused in the Comatorium for the 4,000th time… (seriously, check that shit out – it doesn’t get much better).

Key Tracks: Bro, it’s a 3-song EP… so, all of them?

 

Also listened to ( but just once, thanks):

The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

Mimicking Birds – Layers of Us