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The Mendoza Line

The Mendoza Line makes sleepy down-home indie pop that will evoke nostalgia you may not have known you had, of ambitionless small town summers full of girlfriends and boyfriends breaking up and getting back together and lying in meadows in the sun, of everybody drinking beer on the porch after sundown, of feeling blissfully drowsy all day long. This Athens, Georgia sextet crafts love songs to the ordinary, the middle-of-the-road, even the mediocre. Their sunshine-after-the-rain pop songs are full of soft, fuzzy guitars and dreamy male and female voices that obliquely express the subterranean regrets of all the average yous and mes, of all of us who weren't beautiful or brilliant or special enough to rise to the top. These are the kind of sleepy, self-effacing indie ballads Yo La Tengo has perfected, but with an extra country twang that perhaps owes to the band's geographical origins.

The Mendoza Line have been crafting their paens to humility since the mid- 90s, and now have four full-lengths and an EP to their credit. Their 2002 release, Lost In Revelry, entrances with a roughly polished desert twang and the presence of unexpected instruments like pedal steel. The country-western influence mixes nicely with the group's heartbroken lyrics and indie pop melodies. Of course, it's a bit strange that the opening track, "A Damn Good Disguise," starts out with the exact melody from The Eagles "Desperado" on piano. The Mendoza Line is nothing if not a little quirky.

That album's predecessor, 2000's aptly titled We're All in This Alone, is full of humble little ditties about people with self-esteem problems, people who don't quite feel like they connect with everyone around them in spite of all the fun times. "Baby, I Know What You're Thinking," from that album, epitomizes The Mendoza Line sentiment: "You do what everyone expects/Whether you know it or not/I am not the one you want/Cause I've been leaning on morals too long and I love the/Way you look on my arm." These are understated songs that might seem like throwaways were it not for their unequivocal beauty and frankness. That's what this band is like. Their very name is synonymous with failure: when a baseball hitter's batting average falls below .200 -- pretty much what it takes to stay in the big leagues -- he is said to be hitting "below the Mendoza line." But whether intentionally or not, this band proves that there can be a kind of fragile beauty in being a career minor leaguer.