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The Mendoza Line

With a broken indie-rock heart and a poet's pickled brain, the Mendoza Line straddles the best kind of fence. Songwriters Shannon McArdle and Timothy Bracy trade off songs, crafting a smart, passionate collection of country, new wave and post-punk that seethes with bitter resignation at the state of the world and, perhaps more significantly, the mutilated condition of the human heart.

Full of Light and Full of Fire is a tiny masterpiece, each song an exquisite miniature. Like Patsy Cline stranded in a desolate roadside motel, the name of which lies on the tip of her tongue, McArdle makes opener "Water Surrounds" a harrowing trip to the bottom of some dark place: "There's a tear in the free paper / Cracks in the desk bell / My new lover, the anteroom of hell." Bracy's characters feel no less banished, finding solace in "the margins in revisions / where we both first made our living," as they do in "Catch a Collapsing Star," a literate, honky-tonk anthem for the urban down-and-out.

But it's a veiled protest rocker like "Golden Boy (Torture in the Shed)" that really shines, even as it unleashes a flurry of hideous Abu Ghraib-style imagery and garroting guitar lines. The Mendoza Line sure knows hot to wrap up an album, too, as evidenced by "The Lethal Temptress" and "Our Love Is Like a Wire," hardened ballads that deserve to be heard over the din of whatever trendy alt-pop is taking up too much space in our CD racks and iPods.

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