The Mendoza Line's Peter Hoffman on J.B. Lenoir

MacEagon Voyce
August 4, 2020

This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.

The Mendoza Line released their heralded third LP We're All in This Alone 20 years ago this month. Named after the baseball expression that symbolizes the threshold for incompetent hitting, the Athens, Georgia band were nearly destined to ride the brink. And We're All in This Alone feels like the epitome of the group's skirmish with emotional turmoil. "It was not a good time in any of our lives," remembers Peter Hoffman, one of three main songwriters. "We all had relationship issues; we all had some degree of mental health issues. We all drank and did other stuff, probably to excess. And then we got the bright idea to move the whole thing to New York. I am candidly happy that nothing worse happened than what actually did."

The band traded the roomy college town of Athens for an apartment in Brooklyn, and We're All in This Alone chronicles the unrest of profound transition. "We were listening to a lot of Sonic Youth and a lot of [The Byrds'] Sweetheart Of The Rodeo," Hoffman recalls. "And we figured, we'd just try and put all of that together on one record. We didn't stop to consider the fundamental insanity of that notion, or that maybe we didn't have the qualifications. We didn't stop to think about anything. It was such a hectic time. We were in our early 20's and everything was just totally going to hell."

As you might imagine, the album is filled with ups and downs. It's unrefined, cathartic, and collage-like — a mash-up of rash truths. And that's what makes it great. So great that it caught the attention of Hoboken-based indie label Bar/None, who released the original and now, two decades later, celebrated it with a digital reissue.

For his Algorhythm, Peter Hoffman describes discovered treasures from a friend's massive music collection...

My closest friend, Aaron Romanello, has an insane music collection. He has collected terabytes and terabytes of music over the years. The collection (often referred to as “The Vault”) is expansive and includes every genre from classical to world music to garage rock and Norwegian black metal to Top 40. Aaron listens to the “The Vault” in alphabetical order. The process takes years. In the last cycle he listened to records in the Various Artists category for over 6 months.

Occasionally, I will check in with him and listen to what he is listening to. It’s always enjoyable to discover new things and get reacquainted with things I haven’t listened to in a while. There are two ultimate joys in following Aaron’s journey. The first is listening to records that people love that are actually terrible. There are so many records in this category. I’m not going to call out any of these records by name, but if you want to listen to some really bad records go to rateyourmusic.com and listen to some of the neo-prog records of the early 80’s. People rate them very highly, but they are truly impossible to listen to now. The second joy is discovering something new and unexpected.

Aaron has introduced me to so many artists I never would have listened to without his recommendation. Joan Armatrading, Dwight Twilley, The Congos, Jimmy Spheeris, Glenn Branca, and Syl Johnson are some that come to mind. The one that really stands out is J.B. Lenoir. I never listened to a lot of blues growing up, but the older I get, the more I love the blues. The Blues, and especially J.B. Lenoir, distill pain to the rawest. Listening to “Alabama Blues” in today’s political climate, should bring anyone to tears. “Born Dead” is another Lenoir tune that really hurts to listen to. Nothing could be more real and emotional than this music. I truly thank Aaron for pointing me towards it. Hopefully, no one will have to write songs like this again in the near future.

We're All in This Alone was reissued by Bar/None on June 19 alongside three rediscovered tracks from the original session. Give the record a spin — and listen to our full Algorhythms playlist here.

Want to discover something new and unexpected? Grey Matter is a community platform with new ways to discover music, express yourself, and support creators. Learn more and join the community here.

Words

Recommended Reading