Mixtapes & Cellmates - ROX
Although ROX is Swedish band Mixtapes & Cellmates’ second album, it might as well be considered as their second debut album, a re-debut if you will. After realising their self-titled debut album in 2007, the band took an extended leave with all of the members trying their hand at new projects before finally meeting up again, scrapping all their old songs and expanding to a five-piece with the recruitment of a drummer. As a result, ROX sounds nothing like their debut, with the band deciding to ditch their electronics in favour of the old school sound of guitars. The strange thing is that after listening to this album, you’ll be none the wiser as to whether or not that was a good decision.
The confusion arises because there are just as many times where you get swept up in the walls of sound created by the guitars as there are times when you feel that something, just something, is missing from certain tracks. Tracks such as ‘Rain, Letters, Memories’ and ‘The Lesser Half Of Cynical Boys’ create such a glorious racket during their intros that it’s hard to resist their dirty feedback charms. ‘Never’ manages to do exactly the same but also has the audacity to create a brilliantly retro hook that immediately suggests 'nightclub, 1980s' and benefits from Robert Svensson's deep, booming vocals.
However there are tracks which end up sounding like a neutered version of Mixtapes & Cellmates’ fellow countrymen The Sounds with the tracks drifting to a finish, rather than punching you in the face and taking your lunch money on the way to a loud conclusion; ‘Sunday’ is a pleasant enough listen, it just never does enough to excite and would have benefited from an extra dimension. By far the worst offender of this though is ‘All The Lights’ which aims to be the album’s epic rock track with bands like Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire springing to mind and the mental comparison only serves to highlight the fact that Mixtapes & Cellmates just don’t seem to be able to do it. Trying to combine the duel vocals of Svensson and Matilda Berggren doesn't help the track either as it just doesn't seem to know whether to go all-out rock or with a softer touch and ends up being a bit of a disjointed mess.
If ROX was viewed purely as Mixtapes & Cellmates’ second album, you’d have no choice but to be disappointed that the band had not yet been able to deliver a flawless album that knew exactly what it was meant to be. However, viewing it as the band’s re-debut should make the listener more accepting of the hit-and-miss nature of the overall album. The promise is definitely there though so as long as the band decides not to have another complete musical face lift, their third album has the potential to be a truly great indie rock album.