MiXE1 – Lights Out
Release Date: July 27, 2013
Record Label: Static Distortion
Isolate the vocals of Mike Evans, the frontman of U.K-based electronic rock band MiXE1, on Lights Out, the outfit's latest EP, and the tracks would likely sound a bit like long-lost studio demos from Linkin Park’s seminal nu-metal classic, Hybrid Theory. Add the persistent and kinetic thrash of synth that populates the opening title track, and MiXE1 becomes some bizarre cross between the acidic dance floor hooks of Daft Punk and the adolescent rage of turn-of-the-century radio rock. That’s not an overly promising mix, partially because bands like Linkin Park and their less-distinctive brethren—bands like Staind and Three Days Grace—were a tad derivative even 13 years ago. Listen to those records now, and some of them may hold up—Hybrid Theory remains one of the only “rap rock” records from that era that doesn’t devolve into self-parody—but most fall flat. Staind’s Break the Cycle, for instance,is only listenable now for the novelty of hearing how dated those early-2000s radio hits already sound. As a result, the fact that anyone would want to revisit that sound in 2013 is a bit bewildering.
To be fair, MiXE1 and Lights Out aren’t entirely built from post-millennial alternative rock aggression. While the melody of the title track falls into generic territory, the flickering synth pattern redeems the song and keeps it interesting, while the far-off female backing vocals on album highlight, “Pulling You Back to My World,” help to ground the emotion of the track. Most of the time, however, Lights Out really does sound dated, even though the highly computerized instrumentation is meant to cultivate a modern sound.
Part of the problem is the songwriting, which utilizes very similar melodic patterns from track to track. Each song is played mostly in a minor key, with the same foreboding instrumentation consistently blasting through the bedrock. Evans has stated that he wanted this project to explore influences ranging from pop music to heavy metal, all through the lens of a futuristic city of “neon dreams and haunting emotions.” We get the neon and the haunt, and we get plenty of the metal—see the sludgy guitar riff on “Part of Me”—but aside from “Pulling You Back to My World,” which bears early elements of the Killers or the Bravery, pop hooks are forsaken in favor of repetitious songwriting that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Another part of the problem is Evans’ voice, which gets drowned and distorted within a sea of sound for the majority of the record. His instrument—a cross between the wispy anguish of legendary Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and the unrequited longing of Tommy Walter, the mastermind of the on again, off again musical project, Abandoned Pools—is far too one-note to drive a musical project that aspires to cover such a substantial range of musical ground, and his limited vocal range derails lesser tracks like “Find You” and “This Time.” Both stagnate in similar melodies, buoyed along by tight arrangements that, despite their relatively accomplished nature, aren’t that notable because the lack of dynamic contrast throughout the record begins to numb the listener’s senses after awhile. “Find You” in particular is weak, playing out like an early, less compelling version of “Pulling You Back to My World.” The songs could legitimately be layered on top of one another for how musically similar they are, something that becomes ridiculously apparent thanks to the fact that they occur one after the other in the EP’s brief tracklist.
With all that said, Lights Out is the sound of a band with a good base and a lot of potential. Much like Abandoned Pools, MiXE1 is steered by one central musical vision with a lot of ambition, and like Abandoned Pools, MiXE1 aims to forge a cohesive blend between the disparate styles of modern, post-grunge alt rock and shadowy electronica. The problem with that mix is that songwriters who attempt it tend to write albums that are inconsistent in quality, messy in composition, and redundant in style. That’s certainly the case with Lights Out, but with an expanded musical palette, Mike Evans and company could dream up something special with this project. The electronic elements often work (“Lights Out,” hypnotic and hyperactive, is a definite keeper) and the pop pieces are getting there (the eighties synth commencement of “Pulling You Back” is evocative of a time gone by), but Evans needn’t be afraid to venture beyond the neon lights of his futuristic city to find something more compelling. Hell, the best track on the last Abandoned Pools record was an alt-country ballad. Clearly, there is no shame in a songwriter expanding beyond the borders of his original vision.