If this album doesn’t bring Cincinnati, Ohio’s Mixtapes fame and fortune (at least within this tiny little world of punk music) it’s just proof that most people have terrible taste. You see, Mixtapes’ second album, Even On The Worst Nights, comes out on June 26th (that’s next week) via No Sleep Records and it features more of the band’s (in my own words) “near-perfect-pop-punk.”
In the (almost) two years since I reviewed the first Mixtapes album Maps here on Can You See the Sunset the band has been nothing short of extraordinarily prolific and has released close to 100 songs. Their almost non-stop touring and has made them much tighter and it shows. With Even On The Worst Nights, nothing about the band’s sound has really changed except that what’s on the record now sounds more like Mixtapes does live than on any of their other releases. Yes, this is the same Mixtapes that we’ve all grown to know and love, they’re just better now. Ryan and Maura’s vocal harmonies are brighter, Mike’s bass fills are bouncier and Boone’s drums are more precise. Basically, everything is just slightly shinier than it was on previous Mixtapes releases.
There are still the short acoustic songs with splashes of keyboards here and there, and simple melodic guitar leads are still everywhere. To me, Even On The Worst Nights just sounds like Mixtapes has always sounded, but for comparison’s sake or for those who might not be as familiar, the band continues to play a straightforward ultra-catchy brand of pop-punk with near-constant male/female vocal harmonies. Overall, it reminds me (at least a little) of Sicko and early Blink 182 along with Red City Radio and Ryan’s previous band Black Tie Bombers. Nothing complicated, just top-notch pop-punk. Period.
The biggest difference between Even On The Worst Nights and Maps is the running time. Even On The Worst Nights more than doubles the running time of Maps with 16 songs in about 39 minutes. Still, the album is so good and engaging that it flies by with virtually zero filler to be found anywhere. Perhaps that is what Mixtapes has always been best at; stripping songs down to the bare essentials without any pretense or posturing.
Their tell-it-like-it-is no-bullshit attitude, their penchant for writing short songs and their fun give-no-fucks stage presence is endearing and honest but it might lead some to think of Mixtapes as a gimmicky band that’s simply “quirky” or “cute.” After hearing Even On The Worst Nights, however, you’ll be less likely to think that. You shouldn’t be surprised, but Mixtapes takes their craft very seriously. It’s something that is quickly apparent when listening to the album, not only in the music and instantly hummable melodies, but also in the lyrics.
Ryan and Maura’s lyrics are relatable and (very often) universally so. Lines like “I grew up in a small town / it feels like we all did,” “even on the worst nights / it tends to be alright,” and “I was searching for an ending / but I found a new beginning,” are perfect examples of simple lyrics that can mean so much. Then there’s the intentional mispronunciation of Bon Iver and a Superchunk reference on “I’ll Give You A Hint, Yes.” I’m not sure how anyone can’t love this or (at least) find a bit of comfort, hope and reassurance in these songs.
Mixtapes aren’t out to change the world. In fact, they’re struggling to get by and trying to find meaning just like the rest of us. It might sound silly to say this, but they are exactly who they appear to be, flaws and all. Even On The Worst Nights is just Ryan, Maura, Mike and Boone doing what they do with a few guest vocals from Grath (Steinways/House Boat) and Soupy (The Wonder Years) for purely marketing purposes… just kidding (seriously, just kidding). Hopefully (like me) you’ll listen to this album and find that afterwards the world seems like a better place, even if it’s just a little bit.