August 8, 2007

Review: The Mendoza Line | 30 Year Low [MP3s]

The Mendoza Line -- 30 Year LowIt turns out what seemed like it would be the biggest feel-bad record of the year actually feels pretty good in places. Certainly there are down-in-the-mouth tunes on the final album of new material from long-running indie rock concern The Mendoza Line, the shambling project started by Tim Bracy and Peter Hoffman in Athens, Georgia more than a decade ago. With the dissolution of the marriage that has bound the band's remaining principal songwriters together in The Mendoza Line, the flatly glum tone of Shannon McArdle's album opener "Since I Came" is unsurprising. Even so, as we asserted above, there are cuts on 30 Year Low and its companion set Final Reflections Of The Legendary Malcontent that are absolutely jaunty, particularly Mr. Bracy's imperturbable, Replacements-esque title track. "The unraveling of a grand design..."

So there is a balance -- albeit a slightly uneasy one -- that holds aloft these two records across a fulcrum that wavers between tragicomedy ("Go Shopping") and tragedy ("Withered And Died"). And with some of the songs only the context of the startling announcement of the end of Ms. McArdle and Bracy's marriage lets us know that the two discs contain the sounds of the wheels coming off. The over-driven "31 Candles" or the unabashedly carefree interpretation of the standard "Anything Goes" don't feel weighted down by concerns greater than rocking out and the next drink, respectively. "Now you're rolling down the stairs in a barrel..."

Perhaps the most, ahem, bracing aspect to 30 Year Low etc. is the return of a lackadaisical mania, present in the dysphoric, vertiginous guitars slashing across the stereo field in the final minutes of the pulsing piece of perfection that is the Bracy-sung "I Lost My Taste." As The Mendoza Line's profile grew earlier in this decade the band assumed a traditional formalism. This won, or at least coincided with the arrival of, more than a little acclaim, but in our opinion it came at the cost of the exciting sonic experimentalism of catalogue highlights including the massively under-rated set We're All In This Alone from 2000. There's more of that sort of experimentalism in the howling guitar chords that feed back in the bridge of the aforementioned, sublime ballad "Go Shopping," which is situated in the middle of the second disc next to the stunning original demo for the Slow Dazzle track "Now Or Later Or Never." The latter song was a highlight of the Mendoza Line live set we saw in May [review]. "Now everybody's laughing about the size of your IPO..."

The breadth and depth of material on 30 Year Low and Final Remarks Of The Legendary Malcontent provides a questionably tidy but self-contained (like fraternal twin Capra-esque scenes in snowglobes; like jars full of fireflies) summary of a great, and greatly under-appreciated, American rock band. We expect we'll be hearing more from McArdle and Bracy before too long. Incidentally, the Mendoza Line web site (it seems the MySpace page is no longer) was updated recently with the news that "upcoming Mendoza Line shows will be performed by Timothy Bracy with band." So despite the cancellations we noted here, it would seem Mr. Bracy intends to get out to support 30 Year Low with live dates at some point. For now, enjoy these MP3s. "You were blue chip once, you were quite a ride..."

The Mendoza Line -- "Since I Came" -- 30 Year Low
The Mendoza Line -- "Thirty Year Low" -- 30 Year Low
The Mendoza Line -- "Aspect Of An Old Maid (Alt. Take)" -- 30 Year Low
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[pre-order 30 Year Low from Newbury Comics here; check out Glurp's e-card with album stream here]

The Mendoza Line: InterWeb | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

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