Since forming in 2010, Cincinnati, Ohio’s Mixtapes have released two mini-LPs, six EPs (including a split with Direct Hit!), two singles and have made several compilation appearances. That’s not too shabby for a band that didn’t even have a full line up until after they started recording music. Two years and approximately fifty songs later, the band has put their songwriting abilities to the test by finally recording a proper full length album – a daunting task considering they’ve never recorded anything that exceeded twenty minutes in length.
Yet, daunting as it may be, the band does not come up short. The songs themselves aren’t too different from what the world has come to expect from Mixtapes: light-hearted melodies, duel vocals provided by guitarists Ryan Rockwell and Maura Weaver, sarcastic lyrics poking fun at various targets in pop culture, less sarcastic lyrics about self discovery, song lengths averaging one to two minutes, and song titles that usually aren’t sung anywhere in the song’s lyrics. “Even on the Worst Nights” offers all of these things, and then some.
It’s important to note that while “Even on the Worst Nights” sounds exactly like what everyone thought that it would sound like, it is still an incredibly fun album. From the fifty-four second opener “Seven Mile” and the recycled lyrics used in “Anyways” to the nonsensical chants of “da na na na na na na nana” in “Just When You Thought It Was Over” and the acoustic-to-full band instrumentation of “You & I”, the album is filled to the brim with everything that made people fall in love with the band in the first place, haters not included. True-to-form, the band targets other musicians in their lyrics (“I’ll Give You a Hint, Yes” shows the band is unafraid to tackle Grammy winners by singing “You keep on listening to that Bon Iver record/I don’t get it- but maybe that’s the point”) but they are also always sure to keep their collective tongues firmly pressed against their collective cheeks (“I’m living vicariously through these lyrics from assholes who never even got it anyway” from “Anyways”). Essentially, they haven’t changed a thing except applying their techniques to write a collection of sixteen songs rather than the usual four or five.
One of my favorite things about Mixtapes is that there usually isn’t a clear distinction between “Maura” songs and “Ryan” songs like most bands with two singers will do. Sure- sometimes Maura sings more verses in a song, or Ryan’s vocals might take over the chorus in another song, but overall the two share the spot of lead singer evenly throughout the album’s runtime. The two vocalists are just as in tune with each other as ever, playing with the dynamics presented by having a vocalist who can sing sweetly and another vocalist who sounds a little bit like Fat Mike. And let’s not let the presence of bassist Michael Remley and drummer Boone Haley go unnoticed: the band’s songs have had a more fleshed out and complete feel to them since the addition of a stable rhythm section. And now that their lineup has been solidified for awhile, the band has found their groove in writing songs together, allowing for more tightly written songs that are inclusive of everyone in the band, rather than sounding like each song was originally written for an acoustic guitar and then had the other pieces built around it.
As a broke post-grad working a dead end job that uses absolutely zero of the skills I picked up in school, it’s hard to pick the album highlights when every song is so easy to relate to and sing along with. In addition to some of the previously mentioned tracks, “I’m Wearing the Device (Bridge, Water)” stands out as an anthem for anyone undergoing any sort of identity confusion, while the bored youth may prefer the energetic apathy found in the 1-2 punch of “Something Better” and “Hey Ma PT. 2”. The mid-tempo “Russian House DJ” finds the band experimenting with two sets of lyrics a la Taking Back Sunday, with one set taking the foreground while the second is layered in the back, and the acoustic “Golden Sometimes” harkens back to the good old days of 2010 keeping the instrumentation to a minimum while the lyrics tell a sad tale. In terms of composition, “Golden Sometimes” could almost be a sequel to “And If We Both Fail?” off “Maps,” being one of those rare sequels where the cast is all new and the plot is only somewhat related to the first but it still manages to pull off being highly enjoyable. Album closer “Mt. Hope” clocks in at 4 minutes, becoming the longest song in the band’s catalog while simultaneously being one of the best songs they’ve ever written.
“Even on the Worst Nights” even features guest appearances by Grath Madden (House Boat, ex-Steinways) on the previously mentioned “Anyways” and Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell (The Wonder Years) on the aforementioned closer “Mt. Hope”. The transition that each guest takes into their verses is seamless, with each sticking to their strengths (Grath’s self deprecation and Soupy’s determination for a better world) while not disturbing the flow of their respective songs. The influence of both bands is also apparent on Mixtapes, from the incredibly House Boat-esque guitar riffing on “Just When You Thought It Was Over” to the gang vocals on “Basement Manners” that sound like they could’ve been ripped straight from “The Upsides”. “Even on the Worst Nights” takes the best of the two different realms of pop punk, the snotty Ramones-core and the friend-oriented ‘easycore’, and throws it all together in one convenient package. By creating this album, Mixtapes have closed the gap between the branches of pop punk ever so slightly, and much more successfully than previous attempts from other bands.
On the surface “Even on the Worst Nights” has nothing particularly ground breaking about it. It sounds like everything that the band has put out in the past year. In fact, they could have just put together a compilation of their EP tracks and called it a debut full length like other bands do, instead of going into the studio and recording sixteen new songs for an album, as well as an undetermined amount of b-sides for future singles and compilation appearances. And yet, in spite of all of that, “Even on the Worst Nights” is one of the best pop punk albums of the year. Hyperbole much? Hardly. If you’ve listened to the album, you’d agree.
RIYL: Mixtapes, House Boat, The Wonder Years, Direct Hit!, modern pop punk in general