REVIEW: Mellonova: Slightly Happy
Mellonova: Slightly Happy [Aporia, 2002]
Three words? Pretty. But empty.
Toronto's Mellonova takes goopy guitar songs and drenches them in reverb, coaxing atmosphere from the ho-hum, creating an illusion of melancholy ambience when in fact it's just straight-ahead rock. Michael Brennan sings without getting too excited, let alone engaging with the lyrics, but his voice is pretty good - like a younger, bored Hayden - and it's an excellent fit with the layers of guitar that surround it. It's these bell-like, mope-rock guitars that most distinguish Mellonova's sound. The distortion and cymbal crashes evoke the Doves' epic soundscapes, but Slightly Happy lacks the requiem intensity of Lost Souls or The Last Broadcast. Though it's easy to say that the group sounds melancholy, really they sound bored: beneath the electric textures and shoegaze haze, there's no passion, no ache, just a plodding 4/4 time.
After the pleasant but heartless "Frightening Commuters", "Stolen Gift" opens promisingly with ambient noise and delicate, ominous guitar-work. The drums kick in with Arab Strap regularity, the lyrics are appropriately cryptic, the musical structure is engaging... and then the song doesn't go anywhere. With each subsequent verse and chorus, the same thing is played: there is no increase in intensity, only volume. "Four Walls" is one of the disc's better songs - nice use of a solo cello - but the anthemic chorus and strings present the alarming revelation that Mellonova's tunes frequently sound like David Usher cast-offs. Whether it's due to the production or to the band's youth, much of Slightly Happy trudges with conventional Canrock tropes - Our Lady Peace harmonies, Moist guitar soloes. Though there's nothing bad per se about Canada's usual suspects, they do not reside at the height of aritistic innovation. Mellonova makes doe-eyes at the Doves' genre, but then tows a radio-rock line, as if hoping that an effects pedal is all that stands between Matthew Good and Radiohead. On "Ground Down", Mellonova lays dramatic spoken-word atop some of their speedier playing, as if playing a pop-rock ode to Godspeed You Black Emperor!, but again volume and speed are used in place of any real musical climax. The song doesn't come to a close - almost a quarter of Slightly Happy's tracks end with a lazy fade-out.
Closer "Hide Yourself" dismisses psychedelic atmospherics for Travis-style acoustic guitar and piano. Surprisingly, this works extremely well: "Hide Yourself" is likely the album's best song. Without the freedom to coat everything in space-rock vaseline, Brennan emotes and the band's individual components make distinct contributions instead of blurring together. Though the track is neither catchy nor moving enough to be deemed excellent, it presents a different picture than elsewhere on the disc. There may be a thoughtful band buried under the redundant layers of guitar - one with an ear for subtle atmospherics, and with a singer who can shake off his nonchalance. Though Mellonova might follow in the footsteps in the Doves (if they were to discover a skill for experimentation, and skirt the avant garde), their best bet may be to strip away some of that excess noise, ditch the apathetic teenage posturing, and go about writing sad, moving, well-composed songs.
That would make me slightly happy.