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Harsh Words at a Musical Marriage's End

The Mendoza Line is calling its new album, '30 Year Low,' its last.
The Mendoza Line is calling its new album, '30 Year Low,' its last.

Music critic Greil Marcus once likened The Mendoza Line to an American-made Mekons, but it appears that the comparison doesn't apply to the bands' respective ability to survive breakups and line-up shifts over time. The Mendoza Line is calling its new album, the double-disc 30 Year Low, its last, and singers Shannon McArdle and Timothy Bracy, once married, have called it quits.

With previous album titles that include We're All in This Alone and If They Knew This Was the End, it's hard not to have seen this coming. There's something almost uncomfortable about a band that has squeezed so much clever wordplay out of so many emotionally messy situations — the band has released nine albums in the last 10 years, in the process tackling subjects from Sept. 11 to artistic ennui — that they're almost bound to hit the occasional sour note. Plenty of controlled aggression can be heard on 30 Year Low's alternate take of "Aspect of an Old Maid" (Okkervil River's Will Sheff sings the male lead on the set's other version), as Bracy and McCardle, each acutely aware of the other's bitterness, frantically trade lines and barbs. The only currency they have left with each other is their knowledge of each other's weaknesses, and neither shies away from exploiting it.

"Hey, baby, I know you had that baby before you were really ready to / 'Cause I've seen you hold it so timid and unsteady and I've seen the fear when it looks at you," Bracy sings. When McCardle comes in, bent notes rushing past in a blur of bravado ("But you're still taking lovers / You take some further than others"), it's as though she knows she'd better hurry if she's going to say everything that still needs saying.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Cynthia Joyce