Finding salvation in simplicity
Greg Mendez’s latest record strikes the perfect balance between the plaintive and the playful. A mix between the heart-wrenching honesty of Carrie and Lowell-era Sufjan, and the knack for melody that the likes of Daniel Johnston and Adam Green displayed on their lo-fi offerings. On his latest record, Mendez grabs your attention with a string of short, uncomplicated hook-filled songs, but it’s only 4 or 5 listens in that you start to feel the soul-crushing weight of the life described within those tracks.
The backdrop that informs the album is one of homelessness and substance abuse. The Philly songwriter spent time between New York and Philadelphia in the years prior to the making of the album – a search for both a geographical and spiritual home that he eventually found on the couch of a West Village aunt’s apartment. The solace of having a base of operation, and a person who believed in him was the glimmer of hope that set Mendez on the path away from darkness, and towards creativity and purpose.
It’s impossible to pick a stand-out track on an album that is so consistently brilliant, but the three song run of Cop Caller, Maria, and Goodbye/Trouble are as good a representation of the record as you’ll find. Cop Caller floats by in a slow, dreamy, thud – Mendez searching for something that the ‘late night stores don’t keep in stock’. Goodbye/Trouble is the most melodious, and earworm-y track on the record – a sparkly, gentle-pop masterpiece, that lyrically flits between the dark and the light, the hope and despair, Mendez conjuring up images of violent tussles in one breath, before proclaiming that ‘I’ll stick around you, it doesn’t matter if you’re rubber or glue’ in the next.
Of those tracks though, it’s Maria that feels like the anchor point for the album. A perfectly constructed pop song whose soft melody props up a lyric that lays bare Mendez’s uncertainty and apprehension. While the song describes ‘some dumb shit’ story, there’s a moment where it seems as though Mendez is about to break free from the cycle of despair he’s in, before being heartbreakingly plunged back down again – ‘Earlier that day we were both clean’, he sings towards the end of the track, ‘But then somebody said ‘Come back to me because it’s easy. Come back to me I’ll make you happy. Come back to me because I’m wrong’.
Overall, though there’s a hopefulness to the record. When Mendez sings of these bleak moments, it’s as though he’s figuring how far he can go – working out how he can address his past, whilst leaving it where it is. There’s some vague idea of a kind of biblical salvation throughout the record (a track called Maria, a Gothic Era image of The Virgin Mary as the artwork, references to the Son Of God, and the Lord), but in the end it feels as though Mendez has the sense that the only way to find forgiveness and peace is to look within; to tally up the misgivings of his past, to let people in, and then to leave those misgivings where they are.
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