This DIY release of In the Reins makes it official: Lite rock is the new indie cool. The seven-song collaboration between Tucson's sun-baked rootsy virtuosos Calexico, a borderland backing band with few peers, and Miami singer/songwriter Sam Beam, the one-man folk hero behind Iron & Wine, draws directly from the cottony melodies and string-centric, no-frills sincerity of KOIT superstars like the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Fleetwood Mac. Much of this music is languid, downtempo, and thoroughly unobtrusive, ideal for background sounds at a low-key gathering of lifelong friends. Yet its softness is arguably its greatest strength. You want to listen closely: to catch the nuances of the melodies, nestle into the sumptuous contours of the harmonies, swoon to the instrumental flourishes (the pedal steel guitar on “Sixteen, Maybe Less,” the muted trumpet on “Burn That Broken Bed”), and unravel the subtle poetry of the lyrics, which take us behind the bars of family dysfunction (and salvation) on tunes like “Prison on Route 14” and “Dead Man's Will.” Still, the question remains: Is it possible for lite rock to really be cool, or are indie hipsters less hip than they think they are?
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