Alone again, naturally: Mendoza Line drives it out of the park (so to speak) with its latest effort.

Mendoza Line

We'll dispense with the baseball shtick and just remind you that the band's name cheekily refers to mediocrity below and barely up to the call of duty à la underachieving '70s slugger Mario Mendoza. We'll attempt to ditch the ready-made Yo La Tengo comparisons -- although the sweetly seesawing guy-gal vocal hues, not to mention the turn-on-a-dime forays from winsome folk-pop into squalling, dissonant organ-guitar psych motifs, all mark the Mendozas as acolytes of everyone's favorite Hoboken outfielders (who, not so coincidentally, also bear a baseball moniker).

And we'll even avoid entirely the inclination toward color commentary along the lines of, "after the line drive single of '98's lo-fi-esque, fuzzily charming Poems to a Pawnshop and a solid double to left field with the summary psychedelia of last year's I Like You When You're Not Around, Athens, Georgia, expatriates Mendoza Line (currently residing in the Big Apple) bat it all the way out of the park with their walloping third full-length."

Finally, please don't ask us to provide a scorecard with Mendoza Line stats; sometimes the group appears to be a quintet (the last album), others a seven-piece (the new one), and still others a six-person lineup (recent photos), not to mention the dozen-odd auxiliary guest players who man the dugout.

All that understood? Good.

The Mendoza Line crafts classic pop with a subtly skewed edge. The group baits the listener's sense of rock-history familiarity, then proceeds with the hooking and subsequent reeling-in through the strength of the low-key Mendoza personal charm. Dueling metaphors aside (good thing it's not hockey season yet . . .), consider a few choice namedrops: buoyant Big Starish power-pop with traces of twangy roots-rock and a squiggly New Wave undercurrent (the album's standout track, "Baby, I Know What You're Thinking"); jangly, infectious femme-pop in a Mary Lou Lord vein ("My Tattered Heart and Torn Parts," "You Singled Me Out"); opiated, Mazzy Star-like chime 'n' drone ("A Bigger City"); the gently reflective spectral glow of midperiod Kinks ("Everything We Used to Be"). Real or imagined influences aside, what sets the Mendozas apart is a hard-to-define quality, a combination of innate melodicism and guileless delivery that makes the tunes go down easily, yet which does not render the music slight or superficial.

In "Sasha Goes Too Far/It Could Be the Nights," what starts out as a gently messy indie-pop number gradually peels off its layers of crisscrossing vocals, assorted percussion, guitars, organ and banjo to reveal an ornate piano melody at the core. The piano is then joined by a swell of orchestral strings, utterly transforming the number -- like watching a goose turn into a swan before your eyes. And in that sense, the true magic of rock 'n' roll resides in the shared experience. Mendoza Line has something it wants to share with you, and it ain't just a hot dog and a beer out in the cheap seats.


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