Mellowdrone marks its return to independent-label status after a sojourn on major-label Columbia Records with a second album, Angry Bear, that adopts a distinctly D.I.Y. sound. "Everything I had done up to this point was glossy," says bandleader Jonathan Bates. "What I really wanted was a perfect snapshot of imperfection. If the song is dope, it doesn't matter how it's produced." He's lying, of course. The whole point here is to take sophisticated, well-played hard rock tunes with careful, often intricate arrangements ("Elephant" shifts from 4/4 to 3/4 time and back) and deliberately rough up the sound by recording in Bates' apartment and a friend's house. (The drums were done in a professional studio.) By this means, Mellowdrone has it both ways. We are not a major-label band, they seem to be saying, but we have the talent to be, that is, if major labels were what they used to be. And it's hard to argue. Bates has a sonorous light baritone, with the reedy timbre of Ray Davies and the flat tone of Lou Reed, and he uses it to declaim his sardonic lyrics over the crushing guitar riffs he and Tony DeMatteo churn out, with noisy synthesizer patterns fuzzing up the midrange and Brian Berg drumming furiously on the bottom. It makes for a powerful sound that would have much more of a pop feel if the music had been produced in a studio with a big-time producer. Instead, Mellowdrone reclaims its street cred without sacrificing its considerable chops.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann