Andy John Mendosa, a senior in Newhouse’s Television, Radio and Film program and resident of the music venue Space Camp, has quite an obsession with the Ennio Morricone soundtracks heard in 1960s western films. Describing his own sound as “shoestring western” and drawing from other influences like Mac Demarco and icon Bob Dylan, Mendosa recently released his debut album Banzai. Recording and mixing all of the songs himself, Mendosa takes the listener for a ride through the Old Frontier, placing them in their very own Clint Eastwood film.
Mendosa even describes Banzai as a “pop song soundtrack for an imaginary Sergio Leone film.” The nine-song album clocks in at around 30 minutes, and as the record carries on, the listener really starts to understand the atmosphere his music is creating. Opener “First Night” is a quiet acoustic guitar-driven folk song that places you in front of the campfire on a mild, starry night. Along with the guitar are splashes of slide guitar and theremin-esque pin drops that are beautiful compliments to his vocals, which are delivered in a weary drawl.
The album’s next two tracks are slightly more pop-minded. “The Dirty Coin” is a grungy romp complete with drums that are brittle but driving, as well as a dirty electric guitar solo that is equal parts Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and delta blues. One of the catchiest songs on the record is “Bad Bad Thing”, which is driven by kick and hi-hats while Mendosa sings forlornly over acoustic strumming and an infectious chorus riff that won’t leave your head.
One of the things that make this record such a great debut is Mendosa’s pacing of his songs. Much like the soundtracks he idolizes, he takes his listener on a rollercoaster that builds suspense, and after those moments of unease, gives you a chance to relax and catch your breath. A shining example is the track “The Black Heart Express” that starts the second half of the album. The song starts with a heavily-picked acoustic guitar riff played next to a pan flute that almost seems to signal the arrival of a train to the station. However, the somewhat ominous opening gives way to beautiful major key strumming, and Mendosa’s voice takes a tone that seems to assure us that everything will be fine. “Look on the bright side,” he sings, “look at the black heart rollin’ away.”
Ending track “Bye Bye” closes the album, sending us off with wonderful vocal harmonies, gorgeous acoustic picking and reverb-laden electric guitar that could easily lull the listener to sleep. The song gives you the sensation that you’re riding off into the sunset, as Mendosa and his backing vocalists tell you over and over, “You’re gone.”
This debut album is extraordinarily impressive in its ability to make the listeners visualize their own adventure in the Wild West. Mendosa’s playing and simplistic production sound clean and perfectly compliment the aesthetic he is striving for. If what it says on his Bandcamp is true, this record should be the first in a three-part trilogy, and we will be anxiously awaiting the adventure he takes us on next time.
You can find Mendosa’s record on both Bandcamp and Spotify.