splendid > reviews > 3/20/2002
The Mendoza Line
The Mendoza Line
Lost in Revelry

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Something Dark"

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It's been a genuine pleasure to hear The Mendoza Line's sound evolve over the last few years. While many of their peers -- particularly some of the band's former Kindercore labelmates -- have hogtied their music with ever-increasing levels of sonic complexity and lyrical silliness, the Mendoza Line have grown increasingly lazy. I'm not saying that they've blown off practices or reused the same basic song structures; on the contrary, their music is more varied and competently-performed than ever. They've simply stopped thinking so hard about it.

The hard edges and rigidity that characterized early Mendoza Line efforts are gone, replaced by a comfortable, easygoing confidence -- as if they've finally realized that they can play their instruments without looking down at them all the time. Their earnest desire to please has shifted, quite naturally, into the cheerful awareness that they can write likeable, interesting songs. And it just so happens that those songs are lazy -- loose, sprawling, stoned-sounding country/folk/slacker-pop hybrids, fitting anthems for wasted days and endless nights.

"A Damn Good Disguise" opens the disc with a twangy, slide-guitar-enhanced piece of debauched country rock, complete with a gorgeous, organ-gilded instrumental bridge -- all played with slapdash, Dylanesque conviction. "Something Dark" does it one better, backing Shannon McArdle's sing-song-sassy-sarcastic vocals with brief, pointed electric guitar accents. "What Ever Happened To You?" shifts the mood again, layering male and female vocals over a woodsy, autumnal piece of seventies pop.

More rollicking rock follows; the disc doesn't slow down until "The Triple Bill of Shame", a meditative mixture of slide guitar, banjo (I'm pretty sure) and quiet piano accents. It's an effective lead-in to "Under Radar", a slow-blooming, Replacements-style rock track buried under so much reverb and atmosphere that you'll think you're underwater, occasional bursts of feedback morphing into whalesong.

"Mistakes Were Made", another high point, pairs Superchunk's punkish energy with mid-period Dinosaur Jr. attitude, and squelches the whole package through cheap, midrange-heavy stereo speakers; it seems tailor-made to be played at impractically high volume on a crappy car stereo. It's hard to believe that the band that recorded this song is the same bunch who taped the woozy, bittersweet closer, "The Way of the Weak" -- but you'll be thankful for both tunes.

The joy of Lost in Revelry is its balance. It's assured, but freely flaunts its imperfections; it's polished, but clearly revels in its most amateurish moments. I'm sure that the band took their time with the recording (the album has been in the works since 2000, after all), but there's a marvelous "first take" quality to many of these tracks -- you'll detect sincere and spontaneous pleasure in the band's playing, rather than the studied, deliberate air of a technically perfect piece. I have no doubt that the band could have made a more precise album, but they clearly had other things to do -- drinking beer, dozing in hammocks, going out for breakfast at 1:00 in the afternoon, and all the other things lazy people do with their lives. And in the process, they produced one of the most pleasurable, comfortable albums you'll hear all year. Lucky them. Lucky us.



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