Longtime fans of each other’s work, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers formed the New Mendicants when Blake moved to Pernice’s hometown of Toronto in 2012. The pair was asked to write songs for the forthcoming movie version of their mutual friend Nick Hornby’s book, A Long Way Down. The music didn’t make the final cut of the film, but it did give this debut its theme: It’s about “leaping to one’s death off a building.”
The songs are anything but simple farewells to a cruel world, though. On “Follow You Down,” a lovers’ death pact is contemplated in positively romantic terms, to gently lilting piano. “Shouting Match” is about a quarrel that “started out as a lovers’ spat, now it’s World War III in a third-floor flat,” as cloud-surfing harmonies are offset by grungy guitar. The combination of downbeat subject matter and uplifting music is a trick they keep pulling off: “If You Only Knew Her” and “High On The Skyline” recall Simon & Garfunkel, and “Sarasota” is a softly-sung tale about a “dirty foundling” dreaming of free booze and a better life — even if that might be in the afterlife. They even fold a little black humour into the mix with the fuzzed-up “A Very Sorry Christmas.”
But before the listener can get too comfortable with these well-crafted takes on human difficulties, there’s a dramatic change of tack: “Lifelike Hair,” a tongue-in-cheek, electronically charged drone-rock number that could be an outtake from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. It’s an unexpected end to an enjoyably unusual record.