[8 November 2007]
The Swedish synth-pop band Mixtapes and Cellmates opened 2007’s CMJ Marathon in a dimly lit sparsely occupied venue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In an attempt to compensate for the awkward silence, singer/guitarist Robert Svensson tried to make conversation in between songs. “I never know what to talk about in America.” he pondered. “In Germany we could always just mention David Hasselhoff and we knew the crowd would be on our side.” It felt as if the band was in uncharted territory, venturing out of their European surroundings to check things out across the pond.
And now the debut album from these subdued Swedes is finally being released in the US, a mass market which has already been saturated with their brand of drum-machine-and-korg-induced electro pop. However, Mixtapes and Cellmates bring a bit more to the table than the contrived feel of a Postal Service rip-off. The band does manage to conjure up retro euro-syth groups like Kraftwerk. Whether this characteristic is enough to win over the jaded American consumer, however, is a problem their US reps will have to deal with.
The majority of the songs on Mixtapes and Cellmates seem to use the combination of guitars riffs and drum machines. Sure, there are the stunted piano loops of “I Left” and the sprightly dream pop on “Like Something Worth Remembering” but on selections such as “Quiet”, where a synth-laden verse crescendos into a guitar-driven chorus, the Postal Service comparisons will run amok as the band seems to unintentionally emulate the aforementioned indie darlings. The most egregious aspect seems to be the predictable verse/chorus changes and scant synth bleeps which pervade throughout the entire record a technique which made songs like “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” such commercial successes.
Svensson’s coy vocals address some conventional themes throughout the ten tracks as he mostly sticks to what seems like relationship issues and juvenile fantasies. His gentle approach is vaguely familiar as he approaches the pre-pubescent squeamishness of Connor Oberst on “Quiet”. Bassist Matilda Berggren chips in on harmonies throughout, making her fair game for any Jenny Lewis comparisons one might care to throw her way. “Statement” is a light-shoegaze affair where Berggren emits a reverb-drenched falsetto. The more upbeat selection “Moments Featuring Bobby Baby” shows her in a more palatable light. However, the mild-mannered Svennson handles most of the vocal duties.
Overall Mixtapes and Cellmates is a pleasant listen. It’s a feel-good album of the post-Postal Service variety. I’m not sure how many of you are pining for another drum-machine-and-synthesizer-clad pop group. But just in case that’s your thing, this is certainly an album that may peek one’s interest. And I don’t mean to do these dudes (and gal) a disservice. It seems easy these days to pigeonhole groups with the whole “sounds like” label, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the obvious. If it looks like a Postal Service spawn, and sounds like one…