Country Grammar is a recurring monthly column about country music. The purpose of this column will be to analyze and demystify country releases, large or small, and help halt the notion that Country music is somehow less deserving of introspective analysis than rock, rap, or pop. It will highlight the great moments, and occasionally, dig deep into the bad ones, but the goal is always to bring more attention to a genre that is far too often swept under the rug due to class assumptions or music criticism’s clear rockist past.
Miguel Méndez is the pen name for a Mexican-American author best-known for the novel Peregrinos de Aztlán. That’s probably who will come up if you try to search for Miguel Méndez, but that’s not who we’re talking about today. Today, the debut edition of Country Grammar is focused on Miguel Mendez — no accented é — and his second album Love Is For The Rich, which came out last month via the fiercely independent central California coast taste-making label Deathbomb Arc.
Given that Deathbomb is generally focused on noise, rap, and experimental heavy music, it says a lot that they’re co-signing a country record. This isn’t Miguel’s debut — that came in the low-key 2005 release My Girlfriend Is Melting — but it is his first major step toward envisioning himself as a music-maker, and specifically a solo artist. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone much that Deathbomb was there before that 2005 full-length, quietly releasing his 2004 7″, after all, this is the guy who helped break Clipping, don’t forget that.
After listening to Miguel’s new record, it’s a bit hard to comprehend his self-doubt; the album is a lush, airy interpolation of the country vacuum, full of simple acoustic guitar, lackadaisical phrasing, and playful percussion. Mendez’s smoky, rumbling baritone is the kind of voice that feels immediately personal, and the closest relation I can invoke to describe his lyrical style is the poetry on Little Wings’ magnificently mumbled 2015 record Explains. It’s exciting, as a writer, to find a record that feels akin to that one, which is one of the best country/folk records in the last decade.
Mendez works as a chef in New York City, and has been hesitant to consider himself a musician in the traditional sense, Love Is For The Rich is a break from that. When he’s not holed up in a kitchen making a living in New York, Mendez composes and records most of his music in Long Beach, California, where he grew up, which helps explain the west coast earmarks all over the record. Hazy psych-country operates out of a place of alienation, but those who perfect the form find a way to bring people into the spacious nonsensical world it creates.
Formerly a member of Love As Laughter, Mendez has worked with a whole cast of musicians, including J Mascis, Dios, and members of Beachwood Sparks. On his latest album, Burger Records fans will notice Pearl Charles taking over lead vocals on two tracks, “To Her (Idea To Her),” and “Too Drunk To Breathe” respectively.
He also teamed with Signor Benedick The Moor for the parking-lot-noir of the “Yr Dealer” video, which Benedick directed. This song is the perfect example of Mendez’s eclectic style — acidic, high-pitched synths punctuate the deep ’70s surfy bassline and circular call-and-response of the chorus, which is swapped out for falsetto “ooos” on the last go round.
My favorite song on the record though, comes right in the middle. It’s a guitar-driven song indebted to Flamenco and other Spanish-style guitarists called “We Collide,” and features Miguel tapping back into that fair-weather falsetto that reminds me of Kyle Field so much. Clocking in at just around two minutes, it’s one of the more simple songs on the record, but it says volumes about Mendez’s ability to condense and convert the minutia of life into meaningful music that resonates for those who identify within his own experience, and those far outside of it.
Over an intricate, traditional country western melody, Mendez eviscerates his own behavior, half-mocking, half-celebratory of the messy collisions that define us as people, artists, and creatures. Love is for the rich, but life is for the living — Mendez reminds us that no matter our position, we’re here, breathing, singing, and running into each other like fools, that is a different kind of wealth. Stream it below.