The Mendoza Line
If They Knew This Was the End
If They Knew This Was the End plays out like a compendium of mid-1990s Southern indie rock. Encompassing dreamy, jangly pop affectations (“Wiretapping” and “This Charm” ), fuzzy guitar rock (“Dollars To Donuts” and “I Never Had a Chance”) and country-inflected sensibilities (“If You Knew Her as I Know Her” and “The Aragon and Trianon”), this album exhumes recordings from the band’s early days in Athens, GA. In theory it is a re-release of the band’s 1996 debut album, as they had originally intended. What this actually means is not all that clear, and singer/guitarist Timothy Bracy’s eight pages of liner notes provide little elucidation. Essentially, If They Knew This Was the End signifies a journey of self-discovery and experimentation of a neophyte Mendoza Line. The influences here are diverse, ranging from the folk stylings of Bob Dylan and the ethereality of The Velvet Underground to the ’80s radio sounds of American Music Club, The Replacements and Elvis Costello. And while Bracy avows a disdain for the hype precipitated by the semi-popularity of some Elephant Six bands, the influence of ’60s pop is more than a mere footnote to this album.
Unfortunately, this journey of self-discovery concludes with little sense of clarity. If They Knew This Was the End is an uneven offering that reveals a fledgling band who has yet to find, or be reified by, a single, cohesive thread. This is both good and bad. With subsequent releases, the band eventually figures it all out. Yet, while this album is by no means abysmal, there are frequent moments of fragmentation that toe the line of schizophrenia. Instances of raw, kinetic emotion, devoid of artifice, are undermined by tracks that are unfocused and seemingly lazy. It seems that Bracy realizes this, writing in the liner notes: “When I listen to those songs now, I think of how hapless we were . . . On the record, every small interaction turns into a full-fledged catastrophe . . . It makes me laugh hearing us attempt to make sense of it all, and I hope it is humorous to others as well.”
Bar None Records: http://www.bar-none.com