It would seem that the cover of Maquiladora’s A House All On Fire is meant as some kind of joke, as the painting depicts a flaming motorhome. But in a strange way, it’s a fitting illustration, particularly when observed while listening to the San Diego group’s music. Desolate, dark and spacious, it’s the audio track you hear playing when visualizing the oft-clichéd movie scene where a lone motorist pulls up to a dusty, dry gas station in the middle of a sweltering desert. And that lone motorist just might be driving a blazing RV in Maquiladora’s world.
Like a Southwestern Pink Floyd, Maquiladora thrives in expansive soundscapes and quiet psychedelic rock. When you hear the band’s hushed guitars and gentle vocal harmonies, you can see the dust rolling across the cracked landscape and the mirage over the hazy horizon. It’s actually not a terribly uncommon sound for a Southern California band. After all, The Black Heart Procession, Castanets and Beachwood Sparks have all done variations on a similar sound to quite wonderful effect. Maquiladora’s, however, is somewhere in the middle of all three, never becoming overly bleak, theatrical or trippy.
A House All On Fire treads this desert path of dreamy isolation well, each song bubbling with melodic wonder, each having a soothing, lullaby-like effect. Leadoff track “Simply To See You” never really breaks its sleepy pace, but does slightly raise in volume during its chorus. “Storyteller” is the closest the band comes to actually sounding like Pink Floyd, and is a highlight, whether because of that fact or in spite of it. And “Summer of Sad Songs” is delicately spare and beautiful.
Though, as the album nears its end, the songs do get a little weirder. “Long Lost Love,” for instance, experiments with odd sounds. And “White Sands” is uncharacteristically noisy. The closer “Katella Avenue Blues” is by far the longest on the record, almost touching twelve minutes, though the majority of the song consists of gentle feedback and white noise. These tracks merely switch up the tempo, however, without providing much more than a distraction from the band’s otherwise graceful and glacial pace.
Maquiladora really does sound at home on a starlit highway in the middle of the California desert. And if I happen to drive out that way anytime soon (doubtful), I’ll make sure to bring it along. In the meantime, I can sit at home, close my eyes, and let A House All On Fire pull me gently to somewhere quiet and far away.
Giant Sand – Chore of Enchantment
Will Oldham – Joya
Lowlights – Dark End Road
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.