The name Mellowdrone sounds like a name for one of those white noise machines sold at Brookstone for people who have trouble falling asleep, or possibly a rejected working title for Lou Reed's infamously unlistenable album of guitar feedback, Metal Machine Music.
But thankfully, on Mellowdrone's debut LP, Box, the band's name proves to be rather apt. Mellowdrone produced an album of intelligent, moody pop music with a penchant for relaxed melodies (mellow) and complex guitar layers (this would be the droning part.)
This Los Angeles-based quartet, led by singer Jonathan Bates (whose voice at times sounds eerily like Beck's) make moody and sonically complex music. Judging from the band's Web site, which features several photos of fans' Mellowdrone tattoos, this potent combination has earned them quite a following.
Mellowdrone began as a solo project for Bates when he dropped out of Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music one year he graduated to form a band.
Bates cites musician Mark Linkous' one-man project, Sparklehorse, as a big influence on his do-it-yourself ethic.
After self-recording multiple EPs and honing a dynamic stage show, Mellowdrone received its big break in 2003, when Johnny Marr, the co-founder and guitarist of 80s legends The Smiths and acclaimed solo artist, invited the band to join him on tour. Mellowdrone's stint with Marr led to more touring, including spots with The Killers, Phantom Planet and The Secret Machines, which Mellowdrone definitely shares similarities. In early 2005, the band finally scored a record deal.
Standout tracks on Box include the first single, "Fashionably Uninvited," a murmuring melody with slightly caustic lyrics that find Bates asking "Excuse me is my rant taking too long?/Is it getting in the way of this lovely song?"
On "Oh My," the band produces a catchy dance number that sounds like Franz Ferdinand with heavier guitars and more vocal distortion.
The album-closer, "Limb To Limb," is a Radiohead-esque composition co-written by guitarist Tony DeMatteo. The song is about DeMatteo's recovery from a near-fatal car accident that left him bedridden and unable to walk for months. The repetition of the phrase "from limb to limb" over a textured backbeat throughout the song brought to mind the skillful use of repetition in Hail To The Thief's "Sit Down. Stand Up." Mellowdrone is no Radiohead, but the band takes its cues from the right people.
Anyone who enjoys complexly layered compositions will most likely enjoy Box. The album is a solid debut effort from a band with a lot of potential to develop into something more interesting. The band might not really break any new ground with Box, but it does wear its influences proudly and that makes for an enjoyable record in which the tracks flow pleasingly from one to the next.