Mellowtone are a ‘trip-hop’ band founded in 2008 from Fribourg, Switzerland, a district that sits on the cultural divide between the French and German areas of the country. Like ‘trip-hop’ pioneers, Massive Attack, Mellowtone’s sound stretches across the divide between ambient, psychedelic, indie, rock, and pop, blending each element into a uniquely divine sound that transports your mind somewhere entirely different.
Broken Rooms is their second record which was initially released in Switzerland in January 2016, and then on February 25th, 2017 in North America. Since their 2011 debut, Acts of Love, the band has referred to their mellowtones as “catchy music, soft passion, without frills but endlessly versatile [and] sometimes melancholic, sometimes stirring, but always unmistakable.” Indeed, the beauty of Broken Rooms lies in its range and diversity as the tracks flow between a mixed bag of stylistic devices; the cumulative impact of which is at once transient and soft, as well as dark and enchanting.
While floating in my own personal celestial space that Broken Rooms carries me off to, I remain hard-pressed not to become quite taken by the smooth vocals of frontwoman Martina Birbaum. From the first 20 some odd seconds of the opening track, “A Friend,” Birbaum sets a high standard she continually challenges until the final, desire-dripping track “Stay.” Her seemingly effortless vocals naturally mix with Micro Ackermann’s guitar, Ives Schmidt’s piano, Matthias Haymoz’s, and Beat Huber’s drums.
Tracks like “Addicted” wind slowly, stretching through time with ease, eventually carving their way out to a crescendo. It is done in a way that is reminiscent of This Will Destroy You. Many of the tracks including “Keep Moving” follow this rising pattern with the climax often marked by a perfectly placed guitar solo that your ears just spent the last two minutes helplessly craving. “Back” features a prominent and funky bass line, solidifying Haymoz’s ability to add significant depth to their sound, while Huber’s drums and Ackermann’s guitar round it out with jazz styles. Here Birbaum’s voice is a bit more on the sultry side and manages to maintain a slow drawl, that is almost paradoxically exploding with energy. I am reminded of the wonderfully overt project Lovage, minus the utterly blatant sex appeal. With Mellowtone however, the sex appeal is a tastefully subtle sidenote amongst spacious sounds that seem to soothe the most obscure corners in your mind.
Broken Rooms is not all light and spacey. At the behest of its versatility, the album contains a dark but equally beautiful underbelly that comes in form of industrial tracks like “Broken Rooms” that would make Trent Reznor proud. Whether it is dark or light, Mellowtone has managed to synthesize a sound that rises above such a dichotomy and retains a fluidity and depth that is rare and entirely refreshing.
Written by Jordan Hodgins
*edited by Danielle Kenedy