Calexico's seventh studio album is a clean-cut slice of dulled Americana, fresh from the southern states, straddling the Mexican border with infusions of salsa and mellow acoustic guitars. While the sound is cleanly defined, it's not a particularly interesting one, and Algiers' self-assurance of its own personality is something of an Achilles heel.
As with albums gone before, the Arizona-based six-piece carry the album on a supporting structure of intricate, range-filling acoustic guitar work. The solid fretwork is dressed in subtle layers of country, blending Southern yearning with the sophistication of Latin tango beats. The mariachi influence shines through in tracks such as Sinner In The Sea, which features shlocky B-movie organs over fuzzy, square-jawed cowboy guitar and long-drawn horns.
Taking its name from the New Orleans neighbourhood in which it was recorded, Algiers is an attempt at melding several varied genres into one. The venture is a successful one and the title track is a stellar example of dishing up this curious musical melting pot in just the right way: it's a modern take on Ennio Morricone, a wild-west serving of crooning slide guitar and black-and-blue accordion accompanying the distorted chords of outlaw heroes in times gone by. The intense border-crossing tale told in Puerto sounds like a showdown at sunset, intense and burning, rushed percussion upping the pace.
Clearly in their comfort zone when blending genres (and cultures) Calexico flounder when they retreat to the domain of genre-exclusive rock ballads, losing the soul of warming brass as they bring moody, broken-hearted vocals to the forefront in tracks such as Maybe On Monday and Better and Better. Para is an exception, a strife-ridden tale of moody minor chord progression and downtrodden, rapid-fire piano magic.
For all the drama of its braver (and ultimately more interesting) tracks, Algiers can't save itself from lacking character. An unfortunate smattering of plain Jane Americana pales in comparison to the better-arranged and musically complex pure desert rock, like comparing a fajita to a hamburger. You're best to pick and choose at the tracks on offer here: as a border-straddling venture, the contrast between the two very different styles on Algiers might be enough to convince you to take a little trip cross-country, and cross-genre.