Week Two of 2006 continues last week’s thread, that is catching up on some 2005 releases which for one reason or another fell through the cracks. Historically one of the slowest the months when it comes to new releases, January is a good time to play catch-up. Unfortunately, we’re a little on the skimpy side this week with only a couple of capsules for y’all spotlighting a couple of records which hit the streets in the last quarter of the year. Let’s get to it.
The Mendoza Line
Full of Light and Full of Fire
Misra Records MSR037
One of the things I’ve always dug the most about the now Brooklyn-based band The Mendoza Line is the contrast in its two lead singers, Shannon McArdle and Timothy Bracy, in particular the back and forth from song to song over the course of their records. In McArdle you have a pretty and languorous singer whose voice flows easy with the band’s songs. Bracy, on the other hand, is a complete 180 singing in a rough-hewn voice with hints of Dylan. Second on my list of things I dig about The Mendoza Line is the unpredictability of its music from song to song. One moment you think you’ve got them pegged as an indie pop rock machine loaded with melody and then they throw this full tilt rocker at you. Next you think you have the band pegged as folk rockers and here comes a drown-in-your drink country number. If variety is the spice of life when it comes to the listening diet, The Mendoza Line just may be your ticket. The latest release from the band called Full of Light and Full of Fire is The Mendoza Line’s seventh release and is no exception to the variety store approach to music making predominant across those longplayers. Right out of the gate there is McArdle working her vocal magic on the slow groove tranquility of “Water Surrounds”. Next up is the loose and rousing folk rock rawk of “Catch a Collapsing Star” with Bracy at his most Dylan-esque trading verses with McArdle before going it together to full affect. Numbers like the frantic, full-bore rocker “Name Names”, the crunchy pop of “Mysterious In Black”, and the country cadence given to “The Lethal Temptress” only add to the cross section of sounds. With subject matter ranging from the plight of oppressed women in Saudi Arabia (McArdle’s frank “Golden Boy (Torture In the Shed”)) to the delusional leader who takes his country to war (“Pipe Stories”), Full of Light and Full of Fire is easily the band’s most political statement to date. What is so disappointing about all too many bands today is just how disposable their music is after a listen or two. From what these ears have heard over the last handful of releases from The Mendoza Line, Full of Light and Full of Fire included, staying power is not a problem. Full of Light and Full of Fire is a record that resonates with repeated listening. (Misra Records, 1405 Broadmoor Drive, Austin, TX 78723, or www.misrarecords.com)
Black Sheep Boy Appendix
What does it say about a band when they release a full-length recording to mucho critical acclaim during the year only to follow it up several months later during that same year with an EP that garners it bigger raves than the big gulp did. I’d say it was a pretty good year. Such was the case in 2005 with the Austin-based ensemble Okkervil River. First up was the stunner of an album Black Sheep Boy, an evocative brew of songs in the folk rock vein touching everything from murder to revenge to retaliation and all written and distinctively sung by band leader Will Sheff. As if this adventurous longplayer didn’t bring the band enough attention, along came the 7-track CD-EP Black Sheep Boy Appendix this past Fall. Scoring high marks in such rags as the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, what these ears think the appendix has over the full lengther is easier accessibility from the listener perspective. I found Black Sheep Boy to be at its best when absorbed in its entirety first track to last. Picking and choosing a single track here or there just didn’t work. Appendix, on the other hand, does not require such immersion as the tracks work as well by their lonesome as they do when swallowing the entire enchilada. Leading the charge is the tune “No Key, No Plan”, a driving number about as radio friendly a song in an indie rock kind of way as you’re likely to lay ears on (I’ve already heard it numerous times on satellite radio.) Recorded during breaks in the Black Sheep Boy touring schedule and consisting of a mix of unfinished business from the BSB sessions and new material, more than simply an addendum the Appendix is a highly recommended companion piece. And like Black Sheep Boy, local Ocean State kudos go out once more to Providence artist and long-time Okkervil River collaborator William Schaff whose artwork adorning the CD booklet and tray card of this release as well. (Jagjaguwar Records, 1499 West Second Street, Bloomington, IN 47403, or www.jagjaguwar.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)