Even if you have never heard of Mellowdrone, chances are you've heard their songs before; they have just been latent. Their tunes burrowed into your minds during the alternative rock swells of the '90s between the latest whiplash-inducing Deftones single and Trent Reznor's repeated attempts at proving that his catharsis rocks more than yours. The dials were turned up to 12. 11 was for sissies. However, their true melodic wonders were cheshire cats in the dense forestry of distortion. Box takes many of these left-for-dead diamonds in the rough and brings them to the forefront for the rest of us to savor.
Jonathan Bates, the brainchild of Mellowdrone, is another one of those egomaniacal musical wunderkinds with enormous talent and, at some point, decided to birth a worthy vessel for his talent in the form of an alternative galaxy where he is obviously the star. So what? Honestly, we shouldn't expect much from this formula anymore. However, there's much to be examined about what specifically this band has done. So let's hop in the Bates Time Machine (patent pending) and go for a magical ride where our angst-ridden teenage years are rehashed for some seriously bitchin' sentimentality!
I'd like to call this "Back to the Filter," but I would be arrested for punning in the fourth degree.
First stop: 1999. I know, this really isn't as impressive a time machine as I would have hoped in terms of its sheer ability, but it gets the done. In all seriousness, so does this album. It's not all about enormity as much as it is about familiarity and adding subtle spice to old favorites. "C'mon Try A Little Bit" takes any instrumental from Nine Inch Nails' two-disc lumbering giant The Fragile and plucks it perfectly for Box. Everything you remember is here. The syrupy swells of hollow drum shots, the same phrase repeated over and over again in the background for effect, and the apex that begs for slow-motion rock outs. "Oh My" could have easily been a b-side that would have made serious waves on the radio with quick-hitting guitar stabs and verses driven by drum machines. Also, I'm still a sucker for people harmonizing with their own vocals. It even harkens to Trent's Depeche Mode thievery (see also: "Beautiful Day," a sparse repetitive cry for help that is as far from U2 as you could imagine). Man, nothing about this year has changed. Sadly, neither has my haircut.
If we skip forward a year to 2000, we'll reach another buffet stop for this album. This marks the resurgence of Chino Moreno's Deftones in the form of the hauntingly aggressive White Pony. "Fashionably Uninvited" takes the best of (arguably) Y2K's best mainstream rock release and condenses it into a gorgeous aggro-rock maelstrom with vocals that moan in the tornadic updrafts of chords which define the chorus. Listening to it makes me feel effortlessly hardcore. "And Repeat" mixes Pony's frighteningly understated melodics with hints of Stabbing Westward during the chorus. By this point, it should become apparent that you're almost listening to a compilation of everything that took you through the days when post-breakup overemotionalism was more a badge of honor than "emo." We've seen better days.
Since our flux capacitor just can't handle more than a couple stops, I'll take us back to the present day for further analysis of where we've gone, where we're going, and where we are with this. "Four Leaf Clover" is more present-based and immediate, borrowing inklings of doo-wop melodies in the verses from TV on the Radio for an disquieting sing-along of longing. "Whatever the Deal" may have the most potential as a single on Box. Bates and the rest of the band do their best Interpol impression. The chorus is built on airy synths and light, undercutting guitars. Thankfully, they don't try to force any oblique lyrics on us, either. I mean, 'I'm lost for, like, the thousandth time' isn't exactly James Joyce, but all of the thoughts Mellowdrone relay are based on common experience. So is the wonder and simplicity of alternative rock. William of Occam would be proud.
The remainder of the songs are either forgettable stargazing dirges of forced desire ("Orange Marmalade") or catchy numbers that sparkle and fade for a few listens (the exquisitely titled "Fuck It Man" and the Bowie-lite "Madison"). You'll find filler as you go back through the years of the music you loved, so it's something with which we can deal. In the iPod shuffle age in which we have arrived at the end and beginning of our journey, skipping and shuffling is to be expected. And I guess I could note that the lyrics to these songs are not poetic brilliance. 'Please excuse me while I blow into a million pieces' may not shake us to the core, but you know what the man is trying to say. When all is said and done and "Limb to Limb" lulls us to sleep, what we have is a wonderful example of what we may have missed and what we could easily stand to miss. Lucky for us, Box pulls us back without dragging us down.
Release date: April 4, 2006
Label: 3 Records/Red Ink
Rating: 7.0 / 10
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