PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Maquiladora: St. Cecilia's Drowning

Maquiladora depict the desert as a strange place and embody that strangeness through their music.


Maquiladora

St. Cecilia's Drowning

Subtitle: White Sands and Ritual of Hearts
Label: Acuarela
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

I’ve never been to the desert. The American desert exists in my imagination only, from art. I think of cowboy songs, or Jonathan Richman’s song: “Why does the desert make my heart go thrum? / Well, the Martians land there / And they’re not dumb.” Colorful, but it neither conveys how unusual, even unsettling, a place the desert can be. Not like the spellbinding music of the California-based trio Maquiladora. Across their five albums they depict the desert as a strange place and embody that strangeness through the music itself.

The double-disc set St. Cecila’s Drowning reissues the second and third of those albums, 2000’s White Sands and 2002’s Ritual of Hearts, with bonus tracks. White Sands opens with harmonica, dust in the air, and then singing, strained in a starry-eyed mystical way and weary in a been-wandering-in-the-desert way. The instruments head off-key and the singing meanders, but a solid song still emerges. “Prostitute Song” it is called, and even if you can’t follow the lyrics, they convey a different desert than the conventional image. A reference to the smell of piss jumps out. “Julian”, the next song, is sung with a Tom Waits-like harshness. Again little is crystal-clear, but there is a very specific sense of journey: “Heading forward / Trading questions / A thousand nights in one”. The music is pretty: light, almost jazzy, and dreamlike. But it’s also sad, and the song reveals itself to be a requiem, or at least a song of loss, crying for the title figure.

Maybe these are all songs of journey and loss. Longing, searching, and defeatism trade off. Spooky organs accompany rustic guitar and lush but minor touches of xylophone and similar instruments. Campfire songs of yearning sit beside nightmare songs, soaked in visions of devils and ghosts. When an electric guitar plays, it’s in service of the devilish side. The songs tell of broken people. “Your ankle is broken / And so are you” is one memorable passage. There’s the historic sense of wilderness, of the desert as an anything-goes place (“He was my cousin / And I shot him down”), but also a psychedelic side. Listening, I think of dreamers on quests or drug-fueled desert trips, of the desert as a portal to somewhere else, but also of gritty desert towns and their inhabitants.

Throughout White Sands, Maquiladora balance these space-bound and earthbound sensibilities. “Bueno Mis Amigos” begins with a Pink Floyd-ish feeling of drifting in space, but as the song proceeds it feels more tied to a specific place on earth. It’s still open and searching, but with tabla, wailing, and, eventually, extended silence.

Ritual of Hearts is a less wild, but no less mysterious album. This is intimate, inside music, not as redolent of the expansive outdoors. The vocals are more hushed, less grizzly-bear styled. The mood is calmer, romantic even, but sadly so. Ritual of Hearts seems like a concept album of love songs, but are these really love songs? There is a song titled “I’m In Love”, but also one called “Dream of Snakes”. The title “A Vow” later becomes “Avow”. It’s an album about love, then, but always sullen and surreal, and love seems no prize.

It’s a gentle album that’s still exploratory. The melodies and textures generated by the guitars are gorgeous, but the guitars are also always on the hunt for something. “I’m in Love” contains a glorious sense of discovery. It’s the one truly “up” moment of the album in feeling. That’s because it represents a temporary release of the fear and foreboding that hovers everywhere else. “I used to cry nearly all of the time”, the song declares, and the dominant tone of the album makes that no surprise. With this finding of love, though, the fear doesn’t exactly decrease. The album is haunted to the end.

The sound of Ritual of Hearts is consistent, but within that one vision the musicians have ample room to play. The album is filled with open spaces for musical or lyrical questions and dreams/nightmares to emerge. Somehow this makes it more exciting than the more eclectic White Sands. There’s depth to Ritual of Hearts within its construction. The album ends in drift, an eternal “Static Hum” that declares the slipperiness of love, life, and the sand beneath our feet.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.