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The Mendoza Line - Lost In Revelry

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Artist: The Mendoza Line

Album: Lost In Revelry

Label: Misra

Review date: Apr. 22, 2002

A band is not just a bunch of people making music together. The people in a particular group are friends, maybe lovers, sometimes hired hands or even complete strangers who happen to play well together. Within this group certain people will take more responsibility than others, make more decisions, and appear on more magazine covers. This is, for the most part, unavoidable and even necessary. Not everyone in the band can be Michael Stipe; somebody has to be Bill Berry. Everyone plays their role, and hopefully, the unit functions as a productive and organic whole. However, as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards can attest, the tug of egos amidst the confusion and excitement of stardom, piles of drugs, money, and the pressure to succeed can often lead to a bandís violent implosion. In terms of the music that results from these tensions, there are generally two results: One, they lead to the bandís fragmentation as a fully functioning unit, or two, they can fuel the creative process and lead to great records. In other words, you can get either The Beatlesí Let it Be or Fleetwood Macís Rumours.

The Mendoza Line began their career in Athens, Georgia, recording for Kindercore Records, and have since moved to Brooklyn and changed labels. Theyíve brought with them a taste for pedal steel guitar, C&W-influenced rock, and an often naked antipathy for one another. On Weíre All In This Alone, the bandís first post-Williamsburg release, the liner notes and songs themselves document the deteriorating relationships between various band members, partially brought about by an ill-advised decision for many of them to live together. With that album, the Mendoza Line raised intra-band animosity to an art form. While some of this ill will is obviously tongue-in-cheek, anyone who has seen the Mendoza Line play has witnessed that certain tensions exist, as is evidenced by a fairly substantial line-up change on their new record, Lost In Revelry.

Weíre All In This Alone was a mess, in the best possible sense: different songwriters, voices, and sounds were thrown together, and the resulting music was beautiful, poignant, painful, even funny. In its liner notes, the album was pitched as a battle-of-the-sexes, with the women squaring off against the men to see not only who could write the best songs, but who could include the most biting, deprecating lyrics about other members of the group. If Rumours is the sound of relationships falling apart, Weíre All In This Alone is the sound of relationships (musical or otherwise) going on despite their considerable failings. Song by song, there are no answers, and often, the observations donít do anyone any good, they simply hurt. Despite this, the album as a whole is a largely cathartic experience. By allowing for both the perspective of the person who got hurt and the person who did the hurting, the album is strangely comforting, allowing for all manner of human frailty and weakness.

Lost in Revelry finds the band on more stable ground, both musically and personally. Instead of the previous albumís tug-of-war, Lost in Revelry sounds like a collaborative effort. Founding members Tim Bracy and Pete Hoffman still provide the lionís share of songs, but Shannon McArdle, who began writing on Weíre All in This Alone, contributes five of the thirteen tracks on Revelry. Most are lovely down-tempo country numbers that incorporate the bandís increasing fondness for pedal steel, and her songs provide a nice counterpoint to those of Bracy and Hoffman. Revelry is less noisy than its predecessor, and the songs tend to unfold at a slower, more measured pace. The album is still full of unhappiness and regret, but the lovely harmonies and sweetly strumming guitars almost distract you from lines like ďso you thought you were in love/just because I bought you pancakes/call it an honest mistake/but for godís sake donít call it loveĒ. The Mendoza Line donít often resort to wounded-heart victimization when dissecting relationships; theyíd rather examine what it feels like to be a shallow asshole, or how it feels when someone treats you awfully and you still canít help loving them. These sentiments are treated with an ambiguity that allows for both empathy and unease towards the characters in the songs. This works well, giving the whole album a greater resonance than if it were simply sad song after sad song. This dynamic is perhaps best explored in Hoffmanís ďWeíre All In This AloneĒ. It details the ease with which a girl is deceived by an unfeeling boyfriend, but it also hints at the dissatisfaction felt by the guy doing the deceiving. Ultimately, itís unclear who the most wounded person is. The gorgeous production, provided primarily by Jerry Kee and Ray Ketchem, gives a wonderful warmth and melancholy to much of the record, and however bitter the lyrics might be, theyíre usually set to lovely melodies.

The Mendoza Line might not always get along, but then who really does? A more contented band might argue less on stage, but it might also lose something vital, a tension that pushes it towards something great. Iíve seen the Mendoza Line play a show with a few of its members sloppy drunk and a few others plainly unhappy with the drunk ones. Between song ďbanterĒ often consisted of Tim Bracy telling a dirty joke and then handing out a beer to an audience member. Anyone who entered the room during these moments probably thought that they were witnessing a complete catastrophe. But when they began to play, everything changed. The Mendoza Line arenít the most well-rehearsed band, and the drinking didnít do anything to help tighten up the playing. At one point I even think someoneís guitar strap broke. This didnít matter. Itís hard to describe how music makes you feel without sounding a little silly or adolescent, so perhaps itís best not to try in too much subjective detail, but there were moments in that sloppy Mendoza Line show that were as beautiful and immediate as anything that rock and roll can aspire to, and long after the bitching was over and done with, it was those moments that remained.

By Jason Dungan

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