Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mendez -"Phone Records" Stark, Weird, Beautiful Stories Recorded via Cellphone in a West Village Tenement

The plaintiff Try from Mendez's Phone Records album available on cassette from Some Weird Sin Records is a tiny slow waltz. It feels immediate and intimate, is stark and beautiful and as perfectly spontaneously poised and unrehearsed sounding as Gregory Mendez's deep choking breathes between phrases. I could only guess what the poetry, what the story of the song is about but, to me, it feels like it is about feeling the death of something, anything so you can move on.  Sister has this kind of voguish 60's psychedelic groove with a lovely stair stepping melody. Control creates a lot of layered emotional tensions with soaring vocals.

One of the pleasures of Phone Records is not knowing which songs are those in embryo and which ones are born and fully realized. Gum Trash feels like it might be a kind of immediate creation that was sewn up quickly. I may be wrong on this but that raw feeling hinged on the acoustic guitar lines that are the glue of this song feel like they are drawn out of pure inspiration that was glossed up a bit.  Mendez as singer songwriter clearly puts himself out there, exorcises demons and that is the best kind of writing. In Daddy which is maybe the most expansive song on this album there is this wonderful sense of wanderlust, of city views soaring past a train window. The bulk of the song feels like an epic emotional crescendo of a personal family story,

Stained Glass Boys has this amazing lush cool vibe. The deep pearly bottom of the song combined with the hushed drone of sound and reflective lyrics shows another side of Mendez. The aesthetic is more British sleek with an almost Morrissey aloofness. Hangover also has a measure of cool or a cigarette dangling from pursed lips. It also has a smart pop sense softening the edge. A beautiful and sardonic ode to minimum wage I Won't Be Home For Christmas with it's dense vocal presentation pulls you in close by the shirt collar but ends too soon. The most strange and cheeky track The Drug Trafficker's Daughter with these kind of orchestral electric guitar lines feels like a twisted love story. It is a trip or a drug trip. I don't know.

Phone Records is an amazing piece of work even more so when you fully realize that all these songs were essentially recorded on a smartphone. There are obviously other artists who have shared songs that were recorded and even produced via cell phone but Mendez's treatment of this device seems less to do with novelty than necessity and emotional readiness. I applaud the fact that he followed through producing an entire album done in this way. He reflects on the chronology of Phone Records:

"I owe most everything to the mid-late 2000s Philadelphia music scene, where I came of age as a songwriter. I played in a few bands and played solo shows and recorded quite a number of songs but in my late teens and early twenties had a lot of trouble keeping anything together.  I would busk on the streets between crappy jobs and moved back and forth between Philly and New York for years, even spending a few months in the hellhole that is Harrisburg, PA working at an auto recycling factory. I crashed on many friends' couches. In the fall of 2015 on a whim i moved once again to New York City to stay on my Aunt's couch.  I quit doing all drugs and within a few months had a decent paying job and a girlfriend.  I got my first ever smartphone in 2015 and immediately started recording one song a week in my girlfriend's (who is now my wife) bathroom in a small West Village tenement.  I tracked bass, drums, and electric guitars ion random practice rooms at The Sweatshop practice space in Brooklyn.  These are some of those songs."  

Phone Records by Mendez is a compelling blend of introspection and artistry. As I listened to these varied stories I thought of artists like Elliot Smith, Lou Reed, Conor Oberst and Leonard Cohen. Do yourself a favor and listen to these songs. If you love what you hear I hope that you would purchase this special cassette or digital files. I think you will visit them often.
Robb Donker

(photo attributed to Stephen Yang)

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