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Mi Casa (Western Vinyl)

A FRIEND, NOTING I HAD been playing Elliott Smith recently, pointed me to this album, the debut from Tomas Mendizabal under his nom de guerre of Quien es Geronimo. And you can see why he thought I might go for it.

Mi Casa’s songs lean to the quiet without stripping down to barely nothing and tend to the melancholic without ever succumbing to the tragic. The sound is intimate but not claustrophobic, favouring piano and acoustic guitar but sometimes setting them within an expanse of echoey space or breathy harmonium and the like, occasionally filtering them through electronic treatments, and every so often enhancing them with low-key strings.

There are some shuffling, almost country rhythms (the title track in particular) that suit the bent strings, Ry Cooderish, atmosphere, and songs which favour nativist folk fingerpicking to hover between homespun and forest bed. In both cases there’s a layer of calm settling over them all. But then some of the instrumentals, which appear at first as interludes, over time become subtle pointers – or are they actually clearer, with fewer vocal or production distractions, pointers? – to the complexities developing across the 14 tracks.

These are firstly reflected in Mendizabal’s voice. It generally goes from a whisper to not much more than a murmur, as if he is sharing a thought rather than a revelation. When he speaks up it is from a bit further back, almost separated from intention as much as drive, making him an observer. But the truth is it is an observer more closely involved than some omniscient commentator, one so closely involved that the veneer of observation actually disappears.

Then there is a kind of rootlessness, or at least some vagueness about exactly where a home might be, that underpins the tone of these songs. Could it be the outcome of Mendizabal’s own restlessness that has taken him from his original home of Chile, through Europe to now Mexico? The more I listen to this album the more I think that is another connection to Smith who never felt locked down or settled down, physically or emotionally, to one place.

Of course, that could easily be some retrofitting by me, who read about Mendizabal after hearing him, making circumstances fit theories. And there is nothing on this album that guts you the way the most brutally raw of Elliott’s songs did – which under the circumstances is a good thing for Mendizabal’s long term health – or elevates you in the way Elliott’s undoubted pop sense could. But they are definitely fellow travellers. Thanks for the tip Greg.




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