Calexico's music has always had a progressive political bent -- the inequities of border life and suburban sprawl are thematic constants. Their songs often feature protagonists seeking refuge -- usually unsuccessfully -- in unspoiled, idyllic settings. So the notion of Garden Ruin -- the title of their new disc -- is hardly out of character for this multinational collective. However, it marks a significant shift in the band's sonic references: not so much a repudiation of its internationally flavored past as an inclusive embrace of its punk and pop roots.
At the heart of the record lies that contrast between the group's pop inclinations -- gilded Beatles-style melodies -- and menacing, punk-tinged rockers full of anxiety and frustration at the ruinous policies of the Bush administration. On the best of these ("Deep Down," "Letter to Bowie Knife," and disc-ender "All Systems Red"), Calexico creates delicate, acoustic pop lattices, only to bring them down in furious crescendos of electric-guitar feedback, thunderous percussion, and pleading vocals. There's still a dusty, high-plains feel to the music, and the occasional cross-border musical pollination, but there's an urgency here that trumps Calexico's previous desert noir and mariachi-blasted work.