There’s little doubt that the topic of love has been duly scrutinized by pop musicians over the years. But friendship? Not so much. This fact likely served as part of the inspiration behind Let’s Be Friends, the latest full-length from Brooklyn art-pop ensemble Mixel Pixel. As per its title, the album deals mostly with the concept of friendship, specifically that of chief songwriters Rob Corradetti and Kaia Wong. What else is the record about? According to the press release, cats, death, drugs, fashion, inner peace, lightning, loneliness, love, New York City, rebirth and sex. Oh, so it’s like every other indie-pop album released during the last decade, then? Well, no. The main reason being that in contrast to the average self-serious indie rock outfit, Mixel Pixel treats every topic on that list with an equal degree of winking irreverence.
Allow me to illustrate. On opening number “What Ever Happened to One”, Wong and Corradetti trade off lines, telling each other of their likes and dislikes over a sparse backdrop of Felt-esque guitars, a bouncy bassline and a battery-powered beat. Halfway through the song, Corradetti drops the bomb, “My parents are dead / They’re up in the sky” and Wong responds “My parents divorced / When I was five”. It’s hard to know how to approach these lines—whether to read them as confessional or facetious—and the following chorus of “Yeah / Oh baby, yeah” doesn’t exactly help clarify matters. However, we eventually learn the truth midway through the record, on the title track “Let’s Be Friends”. “My parents didn’t divorce/When I was five”, Wong admits over a squelchy synth and yet another preset-sounding lo-fi beat. “And mine didn’t actually die”, Corradetti chimes in. “That was just a lie”. Psyche!
This isn’t to suggest, however, that Mixel Pixel are merely art-pop pranksters more interested in mocking, rather than contributing to the Brookyln hipster discourse. Quite the opposite, in fact: the musical content of Let’s Be Friends clearly demonstrates that the members of Mixel Pixel harbor a few soft spots for the sacred cows of college rock. “Great Invention” opens up with a foreboding bass line and an echoey bass-bass-snare-snare beat that recall early Jesus and Mary Chain. “I was looking for a problem in the shape of a girl”, Corradetti sings, presaging a tale of misguided romance. Just before the chorus, a fuzzed-out guitar kicks in, thereby completing the Reid brothers allusion. “Cats”, meanwhile, sounds like Tears For Fears fronted by Stephin Merritt, with Corradetti declaring “I don’t want to talk about your cats / ‘Cuz that’s not my scene” in an overstated baritone, as stargazing synth chords blossom around him.
“You Could Be” wears out its welcome pretty fast, sounding like a warped Sesame Street tune built using a palette of Casiotone noises. “You could be an actress or you could be a writer”, Corradetti sings before moving on to more surreal professions: “You could be a diamond or you could be a star/You could be the silver strings on my guitar”. Likewise, “So Regal (Tigershark Kiss)” aims for the hazy atmospherics of Mazzy Star but wacky lines like “But will you ever ever dance with me?/Even if I water plants for you?” undermine the song’s mood.
Ultimately, Mixel Pixel’s penchant for penning such silly, juvenile lyrics proves to be both the band’s greatest asset and most frustrating trait. While Corradetti and Wong’s bubbly demeanor sets them apart from other artists mining similar sonic territory, their decidedly precious interest in topics like shortbread cookies, puffy stickers and sleeping bags can be a little grating in large doses. While there’s no denying that Mixel Pixel has a knack for constructing short, lo-fi pop songs with psychedelic and shoegaze tendencies, their lyrics often make it hard to take those songs seriously. Perhaps that’s by design, though. After all, when two friends goof off together, the primary objective is usually nothing more ambitious than making each other laugh.