It has been a long journey for The Mendoza Line, in terms of both geography and output.
The acclaimed indie-rock collective, which formed in Athens, Ga., then relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., has released albums on four record labels since its debut in 1997 while enduring a revolving-door lineup.
There are changes abound again as the band arrives at its latest career milepost: record No. 7, Full of Light and Full of Fire (Misra Records). Suddenly, the newly married singer/songwriter duo of Timothy Bracy (who also plays guitar) and Shannon McArdle are the lone core members remaining, so the album rests even more squarely on their shoulders than usual (the band’s third lead vocalist and fellow songwriter, Peter Hoffman, has departed).
Most of Bracy and McArdle’s offerings on the album are in keeping with the band’s established standard for smart, contemplative lyrics and varied arrangements, and the album boasts a handful of songs that rate among their best. However, having one fewer songwriter around does not make the output any less schizophrenic than on past albums.
There are the usual electric guitar bursts and stabs at pop-punk. Granted, some are competent and catchy enough — such as McArdle’s layered high-end vocals on the chorus of “Golden Boy (Torture in the Shed)” — but Bracy and McArdle are at their best on their world-weary country-folk ballads, which best highlight not only their revealing, soul-searching verses, but two voices that were made for such conveying such earnestness.
Bracy has a slight Dylan-esque warble that only helps project the vulnerability contained in the lyrics. On “Catch a Collapsing Star,” the disc’s instantly memorable standout track, he offers: “Accept no imitation, baby, catch a collapsing star/For it’s your limitations that make you what you are.”
McArdle, meanwhile, boasts a sunny, show-stealing twang that can’t help but inject optimism into dour subject matter. Even when singing as someone sinking in anguish (“Emptiness abounds, and water surrounds my last feeling”), she does so with enough resolve in her voice to suggest that she’ll pull herself together. Later, McArdle convincingly coos her way through the brilliant “The Lethal Temptress,” followed by Bracy’s disc-ender, the solemn yet moving “Our Love Is Like a Wire.”
As such, the album ends impressively enough to suggest that wherever Bracy and McArdle head next, they will have plenty of great music in them, especially if they stick to their strengths.
— By George Henn