Mellowdrone: Box

Bring on the major leagues: Mellowdrone answers Columbia's call with the 21st century's answer to corporate rock.



Label: Red Ink
US Release Date: 2006-04-04
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

There's only one way that Mellowdrone isn't a terrible band name, and that's if it happens to be in the vein of Low, Indigo Girls or Gangsta Boo, where it does the heavy lifting for critics looking to describe their sound. It actually works for the leadoff track on Box, as "C'mon Try a Little Bit" is a shoegaze teaser; a slow, brooding mix of distant vocal echoes, rumbling toms and bulbous bass. After that, Box isn't Loveless, so much as it is loveless, lacking tension or creative spark, ignoring the gospel of Steven Malkmus that you gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent. It doesn't sound anything like Toto (well, except for the cheeky hired gun soloing in "Oh My"), but I'll be damned if this isn't corporate L.A. rock.

It's easy to criticize the majors for snapping up the hopelessly derivative likes of Keane and The Bravery, but at least you can see it from the label's perspective. Mellowdrone is hooked up with the Columbia subsidiary Red Ink, and I have no idea why. Not because they're particularly inept; if anything, Mellowdrone sounds too proficient. It's just difficult to imagine that Box could end up being an album people laugh at, cry with or even care about. The lack of passion on Box manifests itself with a pervasive sense of detachment and cynicism, as best illustrated by song titles like "Beautiful Day", "Fuck It Man", "And Repeat" and "Whatever the Deal". And as to be expected from an album that's paradoxically inspired by indifference, most of Box just kinda happens, neither good enough or bad enough to really be noticed.

After the red herring of "C'mon Try a Little Bit", Mellowdrone putter around for 12 cuts of nearly uniform length in the no-man's land between art and commerce, recalling prefab and functionally-named relics from the Buzz Bin such as Sponge, Ours, Flys, Failure and Wax that failed to move units or critics in any significant way. The bigger problem is that Mellowdrone is wed to verses and choruses and they don't even have a "Molly", "Sometimes", or "Got You Where I Want You" in their quiver to make laptop speakers bump. It's like latter-day Cecil Fielder; Mellowdrone swings for the fences every time, but they're wheezing by the time they round first. As to be expected from a band this green, Mellowdrone know what a hit sounds like, but they're hesitant to embrace one right under their nose. "Oh My" goes for glowstick dance rock, but ends up with half-speed Andrew W.K. "Fashionably Uninvited" has a synthy swing and a singsong cadence that's subtly ingratiating, but it's cheapened by the power saw chords in its aimless chorus. "Fuck It Man" is ashamed of being the most anthemic song on Box; first, there's that self-sabotaging title and it snuffs out the hook when it sounds like it could explode.

While the band makes liberal use of ProTools trickery, they're not a studio band either. Trapped in a midtempo grid that's the work of either an uncreative drummer or a lazy programmer, Box never develops a sense of dynamics that goes beyond making the chorus loud. Songs are over and underthought at the same time, tricked out like a child's Activity Center, where intermittent button pressing can trigger incongruous sound effects (modulated bass, dinky keys, dot pixel guitar distortion) to stave off boredom. They're distinguished somewhat by the vocals of Jonathan Bates, which sort of sound like Calla without the sex or mystery -- which is to say, it's just difficult to hear him. Not that the lyrics invite close listening; he leans on profanity that pops up with the annoying randomness of teenage acne and lines like "fuck it man, you gotta get out while you can" and "it's a beautiful day" (in two different songs). But while those are caked with stale sarcasm, it's better than the painfully straight-faced chorus of "Madison": "Whatever those girls at school did say don't believe them / They're just jealous of your awkward ways," and thereafter, adopting a choked wail that sounds like Chris Cornell at his most herniated, "rush right past them in the hallllll!!!!!!!!"

It's easy to assume that major labels can engineer hit singles and platinum albums on cue, but the sad reality is that the record industry is set up so one Eminem blockbuster picks up the tab for nine other duds like Box that fail to recoup. Check out the roster on your favorite label's website, and you'll find literally dozens of bands caught up in corporate red tape that you've never heard of and never will. In your weaker moments, you'll just hope an A&R man's child didn't go without supper because someone their dad inked to a deal never even got their album out.

But in the end, maybe I was wrong and Mellowdrone is an appropriate name. Can't you imagine TV writers coming up with something like that if they needed a fake band name for an episode? Wouldn't "that was the new one from Mellowdrone" sound pretty good coming from a Best Buy voiceover? That's why Mellowdrone makes sense; the majority of Box sounds like the kind of stuff you dutifully ignore while shopping for high-end electronics.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.