Fourteen years after their 2005 release of In the Reins, Calexico and Iron & Wine follow up their experimental album with Years to Burn, an album proving these two groups have taken their long-term hiatus to perfect the album that In the Reins originally set out to be.
Calexico, an indie-rock band out of Tucson, Arizona, draws heavily on Americana, folk and Mexican music to create a unique sound that mingles perfectly with Iron & Wine’s Samuel Beam’s folksy, blues interpretation of the genre. Together, the duo creates a dynamic album relying much more on their sound as opposed to Beam’s lyrics, which seemed to carry their previous project.
The album feels like a road trip across Texas that starts in the western corner as the sun rises on two different countries. Calexico’s variety of instruments pushes aspects of Tejano music into the indie spotlight. Their country rhythm mixes with Beam’s vocals to create what seems like a cold, crisp drive down I-10. It’s nostalgic and melancholic. Songs such as “Father Mountain” and “What Heaven’s Left” sound like old American classics resonating out of your nana’s record player.
Folk and blues carry the lyrics as the album finds a way to package each song as a complement between its sound and subject matter. Beams does this in “Father Mountain” as he sings about his roots and American idealism: “While my father built a mansion on the mountain, it was me and my Teresa against the world. We took all the river had to give.”
“Outside El Paso” is the first sign of masterful craftsmanship between the two artists and a sign to the audience that this album is more than just an indie-folk album. The song is a two-minute piece that vividly paints the drive between the border town and the next point of civilization. The song is a desolate-sounding piece that wishes the listener farewell as they embark on a road of solitude and self-discovery.
The best song on the album, maybe one of the best songs released in the past few months, is “The Bitter Suite.” The track is a trifecta of three independent pieces coming together to make what could be the song soundtrack to any road trip taken by oneself. It is also the point where Calexico and Beam are at their best; they perfectly mix together to take the listener on a journey. The song opens with an indie-folk guitar melody behind Spanish lyrics that emphasize the importance of following through with dreams.
It crescendos into a free-form dance between vocals, drums, trumpets and just about any other instrument that sends neurons firing. As the “The Bitter Suite” comes to an end, the listener is soothed back into reality with Beam’s voice, a mark of enlightenment in the album. In its entirety, the song is a culmination of self-reflection, reality and the essence of what makes Years to Burn the older, more mature version of In the Reins.
Calexico and Iron & Wine’s Years to Burn is a long-awaited album that definitely pays off. Though it is definitely bound to get lost in the discourse of their discography, Years to Burn shows the artistry and growth that these two artists have done over the past decade. If you approach this album expecting a typical Iron & Wine album, you will be disappointed. What you get is an album that drives heavily on the Americana aspect of country music and pushes the listener into reflection while sending a reminder that time will continuously remain burning.
4 out of 5 stars
Listening Time: 32 minutes and 10 seconds