Streetdate: August 21, 2007
Love songs come and go, but a good breakup song will jam its fist into your chest and squeeze the life right outta you. Bob Dylan's son Jakob has said in interviews that he can't listen to records like Blood on the Tracks because they sound like his parents fighting. Richard and Linda Thompson's divorce songs are as tragic as they are transcendent. The Mendoza Line's 30 Year Low mini-album, then, marks the end of band-mates Tim Bracy and Shannon McArdle's marriage and artistic collaboration. After nearly a decade of making music together, Tim is stickin' it out as the band's main-man while Shannon will go on to other projects. What we're left with is eight songs so gut-wrenchingly personal you can't help but be swept up in the bitter heartsickness. 30 Year Low is a crowded, brutal, witty, authentic, vigorous mess of history and hurt feelings, a vivid and contradictory document of life at the edge of 30, and the death of love for two beaten-down and tangled-up souls.
As a follow up to the critically acclaimed 2003 release Full of Light and Full of Fire, the new album accrues to a sense of fear and anxiety about the aging of both our bodies and our social institutions. Setting aside personal strife the band continues as ever to co-mingle the personal and the political, documenting the disenfranchised and working poor. McArdle's "Since I Came" is told from the point of view of an immigrant laborer working in a chicken factory in Northeast Georgia - one of thousands of such undocumented and unprotected workers who are obscured in the shadow of those backwoods.
Whether personal or political, literal or metaphoric, Bracy and McArdle's dueling narratives feel like a punch to the throat. McArdle works her early Liz Phair vocals against Bracy's bluesy rasp, each songwriter trading off as lead vocalist.
"Since I Came" opens the record with Shannon singing lines like "I never know I'm alone when I'm sleeping" above a moody indie country shuffle. With "Aspect of an Old Maid," Okkervil River's Will Sheff guest-duets with McArdle on a rowdy roadhouse stomper that's part Born to Run-era Springsteen, part vintage Replacements. With disillusionment and crazy lust and confusion, Sheff sings, "hey baby I know you had that baby before you were really ready to, because I've seen you hold it so timid and unsteady and I've seen the fear when it looks at you." Bracy's "I Lost My Taste" is pure Americana pop rock 'n' roll with stormy chicken-scratch guitar and vibe that fits somewhere between the Velvet Underground's "Waiting for My Man" and Dylan's "Idiot Wind." All told, it's an eight-song tumble down a flight of stairs.
Released along with the mini-album is the bonus disc The Final Remarks of the Legendary Malcontent which draws inspiration from the sort of cut and paste Dylan, Stones, and Replacements bootleg albums which jogged the band's imagination as teenaged music obsessives pouring over dusty record collections. Culled from live tracks, radio programs, rehearsal takes, covers, and demos, The Final Remarks evokes nothing so much as the effusive, devil may care attitude of Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbet. A warts and all omnibus which nevertheless reveals the poignant alchemy of this vibrant collaboration.
So, with the release of this double CD set, change is most definitely in the air but Bracy and company seem up for the challenge. "It's been a long time since I tried making music without Shannon, I'm not exactly relishing the idea," Bracy says cautiously, "But we all believe in this too much to stop." Eight albums and ten years into their career, 2007 sees The Mendoza Line becoming something new, strengthened by loss and tumult and age. What comes next should be downright revelatory.