By: Jessica Nakamoto –
“Musical anthropologists”. This is the term Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) used to describe friends and fellow musicians, Joey Burns and John Convertino (Calexico), while reflecting on the two groups’ longstanding history. And as it turns out, his word choice couldn’t have been more spot on, especially when it comes to the duo’s latest collaboration and cleverly titled record, Years to Burn.
With nearly a decade and a half having passed since their inaugural joint EP, Into the Reins, it’s no surprise that both Calexico and Iron & Wine have garnered much success in the indie-folk-rock community. And given the release of Calexico’s ninth studio album, The Thread That Keeps Us, and Iron & Wine’s 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album (Weed Garden), each band has gone on to hold an impressive track record that many in the industry would seek to replicate.
However, the secret to future growth doesn’t lie solely in the success of past. Rather both bands are strong advocates for absorbing what one discovers from prior works and pushing on to new and exciting territory.
So whileYears to Burn(out June 14 via Sub Pop Records), was produced by a familiar face in the industry, Matt Ross-Sprang (Margo Price, Al Green, Jason Isbell), the record still manages to envelop listeners in a sonic environment never before heard in either Calexico or Iron & Wine’s past works.
In fact, taking a sharp deviation from 2005’s Into the Reins, (in which Beam completed all of the group’s songwriting), there is a distinct harmony (stemming from each artist’s involvement throughout the entire creation process) which bridges otherwise seemingly unrelated topics and emotions into one cohesive body of work.
And whether it be throwing kisses to lovers atop a mountaintop mansion before bracing for an inevitable fall, in “Father Mountain” or basking in the old-Western movie atmosphere crafted through the instrument-only interlude in “Outside El Paso”, one can’t help but notice that these sonic environments logically, shouldn’t belong in the same orbit. Yet, listeners can’t help but feel transported to distinct but strangely interconnected faraway lands; the product of Calexico and Iron & Wine’s expansive imaginations and strong collaborative capabilities.
Songs such as “The Bitter Suite” even contain internal partitions that highlight undulating fast-to-slow rhythms, Spanish-to-English lyrical changeups and a plethora of topics ranging from forgetful birds to an individual reminiscing about trains leaving Tennessee. In other words, a clearly different message compared to some of the bands’ more straightforward tracks such as “In Our Own Time” which speak of experiencing a “life worth living” with the reassurance that someone will be there to “catch you if you want to fall”.
Thus, armed with creativity, collaboration, and the desire to build on past successes, “musical anthropologists” Calexico and Iron & Wine have made a strong case for the benefits and almost infinite set of possibilities of experimentation.