Mellowdrone – A Demonstration of Intellectual Property EP

Mellowdrone
A Demonstration of Intellectual Property EP

This EP was originally a self-release, just as the previous two EPs were, but it was re-released under Artist Direct’s label after Mellowdrone signed with them. Mellowdrone is just a pseudonym for Jonathan Bates, the driving force behind the name, and whoever happens to be playing drums for him. At the moment, the timekeeping duties are performed by Scott Ellis.
The first thing noticeable about A Demonstration of Intellectual Property is the packaging. Everything is clear, except for the print and silver band of metal that stores the music itself. This design scheme has been done before with CDs and vinyl, but it hasn’t worn out its welcome yet. The novelty will probably wear thin about the time it graces a Britney disc.
The second thing is the small proclamation: “lovingly recorded in a bedroom.” While the “trueness” of that statement can’t be questioned, Jonathan Bates has way too much skill in arranging songs and engineering records for this to ever be confused with Guided By Voices’ first couple of albums, upon which you can sometimes hear people yelling or cars driving on the street. Which is not a bad thing, Bates has probably worked really hard learning how to record his songs and make albums, and that’s cool. I applaud that.
The point is this: other people will probably say this EP sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom or is lo-fi because of the statement on the disc. It doesn’t, and the statement is misleading. What it sounds like is an album written in a bedroom. Master Bates wrote these songs while sitting on his bed “journaling” with a guitar or keyboard in hand. The type of diary introspection, observations, and emotions like those found on discs by Hayden or Chris Cornell’s Euphoria Morning.
The first track is an instrumental number called “Tinylittle” based around a two-chord progression. The song is defined though by adding layers of sounds and notes that play off the melody and harmony within those two chords, so it’s far from boring, and Bates uses the afore-mentioned recording skills to keep it from sounding crowded or cluttered. There are various drum machine effects and synthetic sounds used in addition to the simple acoustic strumming. The next two tracks go down pretty well, too. “Fashionably Uninvited” and “And Repeat” (damn, that’s awkward) both use pop beats, cool arrangements, and instrumentation that bolster the melody and chorus to hook the listener. While these songs are good, even beyond the first couple of listens, there’s no need to make up new adjectives to describe them. This is also where Bates’ voice is first heard, and it’s good, too. He has a striking range and he knows how to use his voice as an instrument, not merely to draw attention to his singing. He exercises his voice and the dense electric, organic, and synthetic sounds to play off each other a lot through this EP, and it works really well for him.
The fourth song is where the proverbial snag is hit. There’s this weird, vaguely gothic metal guitar riff on “No More Options” that bugs. This song is sort of an anti-anthem in that the soaring vocals and symphonic arrangement lead you to believe that some big point is being made, but, in reality, there isn’t. That’s okay, but when you throw in some cheesy death metal guitar … sheesh. This song falls flat on it’s face and nearly ruins the disc. I can’t stand it. The next two songs, however, bring this EP back from the brink. “Beautiful Day” and “Bitelip” are really, truly great songs with clever and inventive songwriting. “Beautiful Day” is a look inside the thought process of a person who struggles with making life what they think it ought to be, trying to convince him/herself not to waste any more time but unsure of how to achieve their goals. Bates’ flat and listless vocal delivery nails it perfectly, and by leaving out a chorus to tie things together musically, the song creatively hints that the “key” the character is searching for to realize personal happiness is unattainable. The final track, “Bitelip,” is a caustic look at the effects of an ended relationship on a character who swings from depressed resignation to angry emotional retribution. The first part of the song is presented as the character intoning to him/herself, but the second half soars as all the negative emotions are turned outwards. The song ends abruptly, as the burst of emotion runs dry, without a tidy resolution or those feelings and thoughts being validiated. The effect is played out really well in the song, and doesn’t tire under additional listens.
It would be a lie to say that Mellowdrone is pulling off a revolution in pop, but Jonathan Bates shows on Demonstration that he has some musical muscles to flex. By skipping over the fourth song on subsequent listens, I found this a really enjoyable EP that I liked a lot better than anything on the local Clear Channel affiliate. With some maturity and/or experience Mellowdrone could find themselves listed alongside names like Beck and Soul Coughing in places besides just DOA.