Despite a well received debut album Mixtapes & Cellmates have been on what has been described as a hiatus since 2007. Since then the band have been exploring solo projects and forming other bands, none of which have made a great impact anywhere outside of their native Scandinavia.
Regrouped, reinvigorated and with a new drummer in the ranks, Mixtapes & Cellmates appear to have ventured away from the electronic sounds that graced their earlier material, but have retained an ear for melody.
There are twee moments. The strange pop balladry of Sunday hints at A-Ha and The Cardigans (courtesy of a wonderful vocal by bassist Matilda Berggren). It sounds so dated that if you close your eyes, the clunky graphics from The Chart Show appear in your minds eye complete, with fatuous facts about the band.
Slightly less poppy but equally delicate is All The Lights, a desolate affair that highlights the poignant qualities of Robert Svensson’s voice. But with the exception of the vocals, such stabs at emotion and depth fall short; there’s just nothing to grab hold of. The usually reliable guitar work of Henning Runolf fails to cause hearts to palpitate; instead it meanders about before collapsing in a heap clutching a weathered hankie.
Yet there are times when Rox tries its best to rock. It would appear that Mixtapes have been flicking through their record collections and making compilations of their favourite late ’80s/early ’90s indie bands.
Never is an anthemic polished charge of indie rock that hits home nicely thanks to a cracking chorus and some glacial chiming guitar riffs. Soft Eyes is the standout; driven by the cutesy drawl of Matilda Berggren, it’s far too alive and perky to be considered shoegaze. Nevertheless the sweeping melodies and expansive production make this a dreamy chunk of pop perfection.
Soon kicks off with the kind of guitar riffing you’d expect to find on Dinosaur Jr‘s Where You Been – noisy and purposeful in its shambolic nature. Although there is an undeniably well worked chorus and some emotive soul searching to be found in Svensson’s vocals, it’s Runolf’s guitar work that draws the attention. Overdriven to the point of feedback, his squalls of noise appear to be trying to derail the tune’s inherently commercial journey. They add a much needed sense of unpredictability to a song otherwise written-by-numbers.
On Rain Letters he’s been let off the leash completely with solos collapsing into chaos and the high notes shredding the ear-drums and expectations of anyone hoping for anything populist. It’s a shame that such sonic outbursts aren’t more frequent on the album, for when Mixtapes are at their rawest they are at their best. Rox is an album that suggests Mixtapes & Cellmates are capable of greatness, but all too often in the quiet moments the band seems to lose the plot. The perfect band for a mixtape then.