The New Mendicants are a harmony-pop supergroup of sorts formed in Toronto by Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub/Jonny), Joe Pernice (Scud Mountain Boys/Pernice Brothers) and drummer Mike Belitsky (The Sadies). It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of any of their bands to hear that Into the Lime is a string of melodic pop gems with beautifully sung vocal harmonies.
Most of the songs are soft, tuneful and filled with sparkling guitars and bitter-sweet lyrics. A couple of the tracks were submitted (and rejected) for a film version of Nick Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’ so suicide (specifically by jumping) is a recurring theme. It is hard to pick out the best of these tracks as the quality is so high throughout the 10 song 30 minute run, but ‘Follow You Down’ and ‘Out of the Lime’ would be my playlist picks after my first few listens. These are such pleasurable, soft and subtle songs, the kind of thing that leaves you sad and smiling at the same time, that you want to play them again as soon as they finish.
It isn’t an entirely subdued affair, ‘Shouting Match’ is a more fuzzed up effort and the albums closer ‘Lifelike Hair’ (sung I assume by Belitsky) has a raucous 60’s garage sound that is like nothing else on the album. It is a slightly odd choice, but coming at the end it doesn’t disturb the flow of the album and adds a different texture.
Fans of Norman Blake coming to this album may be initially dissapointed as Pernice handles the bulk of the lead vocals on the album (and I suspect wrote more of the songs here). However, Blake’s sound is all over the record. His harmony work is wonderful, the playing and arrangements have his stamp and it truly sounds like a partnership. His lead vocal, on a beautiful version of Sandy Denny’s ‘By the Time it Gets Dark’, is one of the highlights of the album.
I was lucky enough to see the band play live last night in Camden’s Dingwalls and feel the need to incorporate a short live write-up into this album review. The live incarnation is a slightly different proposition to the album, with just Blake and Pernice on stage and only acoustic guitars (plus some glockenspiel) being played.
The set is a mixture of album tracks, covers and songs by the duo’s various bands being played to a small but attentive crowd. Lead vocals switch between the two and songwriting is tossed back and forth throughout the set. It is as relaxed and proficient a performance as you’ll be likely to see this year with even the mistakes (a fumbled glockenspiel solo) handled like it is all part of the show. The banter is engaging also, with Norman’s noisy tapping foot and Joe’s professed unfamiliarity with Norman’s work being recurrent jokes through the night.
The new songs sound great live and the chance to hear The Scud Mountain Boy’s ‘Grudge Fuck’ and Teenage Fanclub classic ‘Everything Flows’ played by the duo is pretty magical stuff.
They still have a couple of UK dates left to play, so if you are in Dublin tonight or Glasgow tomorrow I urge you to see them play, and why not pick up a copy of the album while you’re there?
9/10 (10/10 for the live performance)
By Dorian Rogers