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The Mendoza Line
Lost In Revelry

The Mendoza Line get a kick out of putdowns. With such songs as "It'll Be the Same Without You," "We're All in This Alone," and "The Triple Bill of Shame," the ironically titled Lost in Revelry has a certain hang-your-head melancholy — or rather, it's as melancholy as a band can be without inviting exile from the "pop" racks of the record stores.

If you are unfamiliar with this Brooklyn-via-Athens-Ga. outfit, it's because they're one of those non-limelight-courting bands who are more likely to wrest your attention through a friend slapping a tune of theirs on a mix tape (and yes, the Mendoza Line are full of great mix-tape fodder — their third album, the underrated We're All in This Alone, definitely attests to that).

While We're All in This Alone featured a catchy collection of melodic gems (probably the nicest batch served in 2000, in fact), their fourth and newest album, Lost in Revelry, is, well, not so catchy. The ragged, drunkenly forthright "Queen of England" and "Triple Bill of Shame" are alt.country numbers that illuminate how much Timothy Bracy's voice resembles that of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. With brooding piano and guitars, Shannon Mary McArdle's "The Way of the Weak" also ventures into down-on-life territory.

The Mendoza Line's pent-up yet resigned outlook also comes through in their lyrics. "...You recognize, of course, this is all a sham," murmurs Bracy on "Queen of England," while on the album opener he quips that "it'll take a damn good disguise to live this one down." On "Triple Bill of Shame" he matter-of-factly asks someone "Now that you've outlived your uselessness/ Do you know what doesn't happen next?"

The opening track, "A Damn Good Disguise," may have a rousing beat, rambling pedal steel, and easeful hooks, but there's still a certain underlying dejection. Bracy's simple delivery is both unbothered and weary; knowing, yet cursed by having seen it all before: "...And the things that you claim to find vile you cling to .../ And I do not wish this misery upon you/ Or anyone else that it might desire/ Though it is my fear darling/ That it will choose you darling/ And it is my fear that you will requite it."

"Whatever Happened to You?," with its catchy boy-girl harmonies, denounces a once-close companion for childishness and "folded-arm denials," inability to accept blame ("your alibi's see-through") and diminished significance in the protagonist's life. Bracy (who co-writes his songs with fellow Mendoza Line member Peter Hoffman) tends to aim his disdain at others; in contrast, Shannon Mary McArdle, the band's other songwriter, may indulge in faultfinding, but her disappointment and loathing for her subjects (i.e. the men who have left her) translates into a low evaluation of her own self. On "Red Metal Doors" she's been duped by a cheating lover; desperately lonely in "I'm That!," she tells a male friend that he can fashion her into anything he wants; and "Something Dark" sees her scorning an old partner and the double standards evident in his current choices (here McArdle insightfully adds that his new lover, "Holds a cigar in her right hand/ You used to hate smoke/ But now you understand how it feels to fight an urge").

The band may write about betrayal and disappointment, but often their music is invigoratingly melodic. Although they're a touch more downbeat on Lost in Revelry than on their last release, the Mendoza Line are still capable of striking up noteworthy pop numbers, as exemplified by the emphatic chorus of "We're All in This Alone" and alternately, the murmured intonations of McArdle over the lingering trails of "Red Metal Doors."

Fans of the group's previous recordings may have trouble accepting the fact that Lost in Revelry doesn't have the high melodic consistency of We're All in This Alone, as the Mendoza Line's drawcard is their ability to pen bewilderingly simple but infectious numbers like "Baby I Know What You're Thinking" and "You Singled Me Out" (from their last album). Yet when they're insular and alt.country, the Mendoza Line still produce memorable melodies. They're just not as fun to holler to in the shower, is all.

by Lee Tran Lam

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