Album Review: Mixtapes – “Ordinary Silence”

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When Mixtapes first announced that they planned to release a new album this year, I wasn’t all that excited. After all, since the band’s inception (which was in 2010) they’ve been releasing new music non-stop. My count as of this writing includes one studio full length, two mini-LPs, six EPs, two splits, and at least three compilation appearances that featured exclusive recordings. With all of that under their belt in just under four years, it’s reasonable to believe that there is a point where new music would just be too much, and that the oversaturation would make listening to any new material seem like a chore rather than something to get excited about. And yet here we are, with the band gearing up to celebrate the one year anniversary of the fantastic Even on the Worst Nights by releasing its follow up Ordinary Silence. And I have to say: I was wrong about not getting excited.

While Even on the Worst Nights saw Mixtapes expanding their songwriting skills to fill up an entire album, the songs themselves were still very much rooted in the band’s comfort zone. With few exceptions (“Mt. Hope” comes to mind in particular), the songs didn’t deviate from the two minute run time or the lyrics that went back and forth between humorous and self exploratory, or sometimes both at once. Ordinary Silence changes all of that. In the short time between releases, the band has grown immensely, and the songwriting and song composition has matured to the point where the album would be unrecognizable as a Mixtapes album were it not for the distinguished co-vocals provided by Ryan Rockwell and Maura Weaver.

Lyrically, Ordinary Silence sees the band at their finest. The sad and personal tales that the band has hinted at before in tracks such as “And If We Both Fail?”, “I Accept That”, and “I’m Wearing the Device (Bridge, Water)” are fully fleshed out here. “C.C.S.” is the best example of this, with Rockwell wearing his Craig Finn influence proudly on his sleeve as he reflects on his past self and the situations he wished he had handled differently. It’s hard to believe that such a personal reflection was written by the same guy that once dissed Strung Out and Tim Burton in the span of 70 seconds, something that seems to be acknowledged in the album’s first single, “Elevator Days”. The repeated refrain of “I’m really working on me- I know it’s hard to accept / I’m really working on me- I know I’m hard to forget” reflects on not just the growth of Mixtapes as a band but also as people themselves.

Even with the upgrade in composition, there are still signs of the Mixtapes of yesteryear contained within these songs. From titles like “I Think I Broke It”, “You Look Like Springtime”, and “A List of Things I Can’t Handle” to the lead guitar lines of “Everything’s Eventual” or the brevity of “Gravel (Interlude)”, there are still lots of elements of what made people fall in love with the band in the first place present. Ordinary Silence isn’t so much about the reinvention of Mixtapes as much as it is about the evolution of Mixtapes.

Like I said before, I think it’s fair to be concerned about the quality of a band’s music when they put out new releases so frequently. Maybe one day that will be the appropriate response to a new Mixtapes album, but today is not that day. I’m glad to admit that I was wrong about not being eager to hear this album. Ordinary Silence is far from ordinary and it is a welcome addition to the band’s discography.

Random Notes:

  • While both vocalists bring their A-game on Ordinary Silence, Weaver in particular really shines. From the opening track, “Bad Parts”, to “Like Glass” and “Cheapness”, she’s never sounded better.
  • Here’s a gem from “Swirling”: ”I think most of the bands you like all suck, and I think that maybe you listen to way too much Brand New and Morrissey” Classic Mixtapes.
  • “Be the Speak That You Change About” is another one of those tracks that shows a lot of lyrical growth. Rather than calling out a specific band, the song takes aim at the scene as a whole. 
  • Who would’ve thought that an album with an ice cream cone cover would be a band’s most mature album to date? It’s good to see that they haven’t lost their sense of humor.

4.5/5

RIYL: The Wonder Years, House Boat, The Hold Steady


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