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The problem with most CD reviews is you only get the opinion of the one critic doing the review. So we thought it might be fun to try something new here by giving the exact same CD to two different critics (or more) and see what they each come up with and just how much difference a single critic's opinion can make. 

Note: due to the nature of this series, the reviews may tend to be more in the first person than you are used to with music criticism.


Mellowdrone - Box

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Eric Bodrero starts us off with his take on Box
He gave it a rating of 4 out of 5. 

"Choosing the sounds around the best song possible and playing live shows, those two things are all I care about" says Jonathan Bates, front man and inspiration behind Mellowdrone. Those words seemed to have served him well, as the moody and atmospheric Box, out digitally March 7th and in stores April 4th, are a distinctive collection of unique beats and squalls of keyboard and guitar, wrapped in ultra cool vocals and laid back songwriting. 

Bates, having made his first demo with an old Macintosh computer, an inexpensive keyboard from Radio Shack and a shareware program, caught the interest of a few major labels, with Bates' rhythmic droning and multifaceted textures. Box has the same sort of style and biting lyrics, just lots more of them. Think of the most atmospheric Church song mixed by Depeche Mode with the drone cranked up a notch, and that's Box. The production is spotless and reeks of electronic genius.

Standout tracks are "And Repeat", which sets the electronic 'hum and fuzzy whine' standard by which all other tracks are judged, coupled with Bates' perfectly slipshod lyrical approach. "Orange Marmalade" goes into an almost lounge-like slow beat, with a hypnotizing trod and catchy guitar work. "Amazing" captures the essence of 'less is more', with ridiculously simple percussion, haunting guitar melody and a chorus of high pitched ooooohs in the background via Tom Yorke bawling. "Limb to Limb" is simply breathtaking, with its ethereal and eloquently beautiful melody and blending yet uncomplicated vocals.

Every single track on here is a perfect unification of studio production magic and songwriting on an immense scale, and each track sounds inescapably diverse and fresh from the next. Box is for that indie music fan looking for the next truly great thing, or at the very least, fans of Radiohead, The Church, The Cranes, and all those quirky sounds that are to be found in the Flaming Lips past couple of albums. This is a truly wonderful record, one where the sounds aren't necessarily groundbreaking, but the way they are performed, produced and stitched together, is. If you haven't heard of Mellowdrone yet, now is the perfect time to change that.

Now Keavin Wiggins gives us his review of the album. 
He gave it a rating of 5 out of 5

As an innocent bystander watching the evolution of Mellowdrone from Jonathan Bates recording a demonstration of intellectual property EP on a beat-up old Mac in his beadroom to the full-fledged band that produced Box, I write today filled with the same buzz I received the first time I heard the droney brilliance of this music. 

I had the opportunity to drop in on the band while they were recording this album. Their previous manager and publicist liked a review I had written of the debut EP and asked me to pen a bio for a new release. I went in thinking it was the bio for this album but it turned out to be for the go get em tiger EP. But because of my mistake I did learn a bit about this album and the then recent switch to full band. One of the biggest things I took away from that experience was that Mellowdrone founder and frontman Jonathan Bates is truly in this for the music and now that he has gone from solo artist to the leader of a group, he is fully committed to Mellowdrone as a band. There was no ego involved that day as I sat down to talk to Jonathan about his music and the evolution of Mellowdrone. In fact, he was far more interested in discussing the songs and other music that excited him than patting himself on the back and the thing that sticks out the most in my memory was his desire that I interview everyone in the band and not focus solely on him. After doing this for almost a decade that was a first. Unfortunately, due to the nature of go get em tiger which was largely a solo project, the bio had to eventually be written from that perspective but I can finally write for those that have followed Mellowdrone, this is indeed a full fledge band, not just Jonathan and a backing group. 

Now to the most important thing, THE MUSIC: listening to Box like any Mellowdrone recordings you're struck by the contradicting nature of the music; the warmth of familiarity and the excitement of hearing something new. Mellowdrone doesn't reinvent the wheel; they just use it in a unique way. But it's the infectious melodies that are immediately implanted into your brain that really carry the day. The fuzz, the buzz, the drone--here is music that has artistic integrity at its core, which is obviously not written with radio in mind, yet you can easily imagine it ruling the charts and bringing a bit of credibility back to the medium. And the best part? Each track stands fully on its own. All killer and no filler here and the album acts as a comprehensive whole, like albums of yesteryear, instead of a mix match of singles and throwaway tracks. 

Production: When I heard the debut ep and read the bio about the how it was "lovingly" recorded on a beat-up old Mac in Jonathan's bedroom I was astonished because sonically it could stand up against any big studio recording. Now with the tools of a real studio behind him, Jonathan takes the production to the next level. The songs have an almost live energy to them, yet seem meticulously engineered. The result is an organic sounding rock band with warmth and depth, not the studio magic that plagues so many modern recordings with the sterile gloss those tools can leave. In fact, sonically this CD sounds like something Tom Dowd might have produced back in the day. Jonathan seems to have it all, a gifted songwriter and musician as well as a world-class producer and recording engineer all rolled into one. 

Now normally in CD reviews, you pick a few standout tracks from an album to highlight, however in the case of Box that is nearly impossible as each song is a standout and this is an album that should be appreciated as a whole. That's the pat reason, the real admission is I find it impossible to pick any favorites, I love all the tracks and listen to Box all the way through each time I put it on. You'll have to pick your own favorites (and yes, I'm assuming you are smart enough to buy this album).

The word genius gets tossed around so much in music reviews that it has lost almost all of its meaning. But in the case of Jonathan Bates it is an honest assessment and the only conclusion you can draw if you truly appreciate music as an artform and not just background noise or catchy commercial jingles. But the biggest reason he earns that title is that he probably wouldn't apply it to himself and instead of having something to prove, he crafts songs from inspiration and for the sake of creating the best song possible. It's not about chasing fame or airplay. It's about the songs. Now armed with likeminded bandmates the results are readily apparent on Box.

This isn't music for the popular kids to make drunken fools of themselves to after the Friday Night pep-rally. Not to pigeonhole Mellowdrone because there is some mass appeal here but this music comes out as more for the kid that may not be very popular, but goes home every night and puts on an album and loses himself in the music, appreciating every note, every drone, every chord and every melody. The kid that may one day be inspired to pick up an instrument, spend endless hours in solitude and learns to make music of his own because he understands what goes into making real music that withstands the test of trends and time. I have a feeling Jonathan Bates was one such kid and now as a man he is following his destiny. We are very lucky that he has found it. If you buy only one album this year, your money will be well spent on Box. 


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Mellowdrone - Box
Label:Red Ink

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