Garden Ruin

(Quarterstick; 2006)

By David Greenwald | 31 March 2006

Garden State Ruin: An Album Review in One Act

Quentin Tarantino and Ennio Morricone shuffle into a small café on the border of California and Mexico. The restaurant is empty and ill-maintained, and Morricone glances about dubiously. The two sit down in a booth by a window.

Morricone: So what it is this time, Quentin? Another of your films?

Tarantino: No, just… this.

He fumbles around in an old messenger bag, finally pulling out an already worn copy of Calexico’s Garden Ruin.

Tarantino: I must have listened to it a dozen times already but I thought I’d get your opinion on it.

Morricone: Ah, Calexico. I’ve always been a fan.

Tarantino: You would be. Every time they release an album your name gets mentioned about a hundred times.

He leans forward, eyes focused intently on Morricone

Tarantino: But that’s just it. This doesn’t feel like their work to me – it’s like they forgot the “-exico” part.

Morricone laughs.

Morricone: You can’t begrudge an artist changing his style, Quentin. Don’t forget, I’ve done hundreds of scores; it can’t all be the same. It’s not like you’ve always made martial arts films.

Tarantino (impatiently): They weren’t martial arts fi---look, I like diversity as much as the next guy. I put you on my last soundtrack next to Nancy Sinatra and the 5678s.

Morricone: And the RZA…

Tarantino: Well, that goes without saying.

Tarantino turns, and the waitress takes their order before moving briskly to the next table.

Tarantino: Calexico has always been about taking that diversity and blending everything together. I appreciate that. But this time, the album’s a one-trick pony. Sure, there’s “Roka,” but that feels like an afterthought to placate the old fans.

Morricone: It’s no “Sunken Waltz,” I’ll give you that. You don’t like “Cruel” or “Yours and Mine?”

Tarantino: They’re fine, but if I wanted to listen to standard folk I’d put on Neil Young or Townes Van Zandt or something. This is like watching Michael Jordan play baseball.

Morricone: I think “Lucky Dime” and “Cruel” are very impressive. These forms can be very liberating, and “Cruel” is musically exuberant, although that’s partially because it incorporates a horn section.

Tarantino: Fair enough, but how about the wordless Iron & Wine-style ending? You don’t find that unnecessary? I’ll give you “Lucky Dime,” but that song only works because it’s a nod to classic '60s soul – the kind of obscure influence Calexico always makes works so well.

Morricone: What about “Nom De Plume?”

Tarantino: Just because it’s French doesn’t mean it’s good.

The waitress walks by, leaving a plate in front of Morricone, who barely notices.

Morricone: I don’t think I’m understanding you. Last time we talked, you were raving about “Not Even Stevie Nicks,” and that’s as pure folk-rock as it gets.

Tarantino: Yeah, but that song barely cracks two minutes. It’s concise and mysterious and exciting. Here, on “Panic Open String” when they try to do similar things, it sounds forced and cumbersome. It’s like the band doesn’t know how to move without those Latin rhythms, and this stuff just sounds awkward in comparison. It was all better live, anyway.

Morricone: Did you see them with Iron & Wine?

Tarantino: Yeah and they were great, but when they played with Sam they were reining in their own sound too much…if you know what I mean.

Morricone: Hah. Well, I guess you weren’t a big fan of the In the Reins EP, then.

Tarantino: Hey man, I like it and all, but don’t you think it’s a little too coincidental that a band would collaborate with a big name artist and all of a sudden record its most commercially viable alb---

Tarantino is interrupted by the tranquilizer dart lodged in his neck. He slumps forward, smearing his face in Morricone’s cherry pie. The waitress, unfazed, returns with the bill.

Waitress: I couldn’t help but hear part of your conversation. Sounds like more Garden STATE Ruin, amirite?

She turns, leaving Morricone with the bill. Hidden under it he finds a note, which reads “The hills have eyes. Stay sharp. –The RZA.” Morricone looks out the window at the noonday sun and then, frowning, back at the waitress.

Morricone: Ami…what?

Curtains close.