Mixtapes - These Are Us (Cover Artwork)


These Are Us (2015)

Paper + plastick

Usually a band announcing a hiatus elicits little more than a shrug from me. I miss the days when bands could do nothing for a year or two without feeling the need to warn people in advance. But Mixtapes' already year-long hiatus hits a little harder, partly because I'm an unashamed fan, partly because of how prolific they are. Under normal circumstances, Ohio's finest musical export since Guided By Voices would probably have dropped at least a couple of EPs in that time.

So the release, for free download no less, of These Are Us, a 23 track assortment of b-sides, covers and rarities is hugely welcome for fans of the band's sugary pop punk goodness. Continuing their commendable propensity to give away their music for free These Are Us kicks off with "A Million Bad Bands", one of half a dozen or so previously unreleased songs. It's an archetypal Mixtapes album opener - relentlessly catchy, charmingly lo-fi, self-deprecating, barely a minute long, and perfectly setting up the second track to kick in faster and louder.

Of the other new songs, that second track "Grenadine" is a highlight and "Road Maps, Ice Caps, Death Traps" is pretty much Mixtapes by numbers, but no less listenable for it. The band try their hand at a few covers, from the well-known (The Hold Steady's "Your Little Hoodrat Friend") to the obscure (Kleenex Girl Wonder's "My, You Look Ravishing Tonight!") and get pass marks for both without deviating too much from the originals. There are also two versions of Rivethead's "Sleepless In St. Paul" - one fast and faithful to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it original, the other half-speed and acoustic, both entertaining.

Perhaps inevitably on a 23-track odds and sods compilation, a few tracks are utterly superfluous. No one needs to hear a take on "Doin' Laundry", Nerf Herder's 30-second ode to masturbation from Short Music For Short People, that sounds like it was recorded with the band not just behind a closet door, but muffled under a pile of coats. "Chicka Chicka Chicka Chicka Chicka" is another pointless joke song, but again at least it's over in under a minute. Less forgivable is the 15-minute closing track "Silence", a freestyled jam recorded by Ryan Rockwell solo. Sung from the point of view of an angry goth kid, it outstays its welcome by about 13 minutes. It reminds me of the excitement you used to feel upon discovering an unlisted hidden track at the end of a CD, only to quickly realise that said bonus track was just one overlong unfunny joke. A few more minor criticisms: the otherwise excellent "Right Where to Find Me" could easily have been shorn of the robot-voiced outro advertising the The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore compilation, and of the two tracks from this year's split with Jabber, "It Can't Get You Everything" suffers from poor sound quality and "Everyday Maybes" could perhaps have been shorter - I don’t like my Mixtapes songs to exceed three minutes, let alone four.

While few songs on These Are Us live up to the best moments on Maps or Even On The Worst Nights, there is still much to love here. Not sequenced chronologically, meaning that songs that appeared side by side on splits are separated, the record has a nice flow. Songs from as far back as 2010 ("Broken Hearted Christmas" and their cover of Direct Hit!'s "Werewolf Shame" are standouts) happily rub shoulders with Worst Nights-era b-sides like "All The Mistakes We Make (Are Gonna Lead to All the Important Things We're Gonna Do)" and "P.E.T.S.O.U.N.D.S.", both of which would have fit seamlessly on that full-length. The two brief tracks from 2011's Castle Songs also turn up - "Hey Baby" remains a total earworm, and still funny after four years.

These Are Us is a well put together and fairly comprehensive collection of Mixtapes' harder to find material. "To My Friends (I Stand By You)", the best of their sub-60 second one-note joke songs, is missing but still freely available elsewhere.

For the most part, the songs on These Are Us adhere to the formula that Mixtapes have spent four years honing: good, honest pop punk with nicely contrasting male and female vocals, instantly memorable riffs and melodies, and lyrics that touch on all the band's familiar themes: friendship, road trips, late nights, long conversations, people and places that change too much or too little, and finding comfort in writing, playing and listening to music. If you're playing Mixtapes lyric bingo, "Coffee Party", which is as irresistibly catchy as their best work, ticks almost all the above boxes. If you've ever heard a Mixtapes song before, you already know what this record sounds like. If you found it grating, saccharine or twee, this isn't for you. But if it made you dance, grin and sing along, then check it out.