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Mixel Pixel - Rainbow Panda

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Artist: Mixel Pixel

Album: Rainbow Panda

Label: Mental Monkey

Review date: Apr. 22, 2004

Mixel Pixel’s liner notes smugly credit the Atari 7600 and C64 as primary sound palette sources; its live show, according to press releases, is a multimedia experience. For some readers, such a novelty might wear itself out even before the end of a review. But it’s only ever half a joke, and Mixel Pixel probably doesn’t think it’s as clever as you think they think it is. Like any good low-fi pop experiment (or horror movie), Mixel Pixel uses the crude and crass to get into murkier places of the psyche--an Atari-rock label would be unfair. It would be equally unfair to tack on something including “tron” or “micro,” or something equally impersonal, as the band’s centerman, Rob Corradetti, seeps out quite a bit of personality from behind the cartoon façade.

Not that this, either, is good enough reason to sound any horns of triumph--it seems that he’s just another bored soul who’s spent a whole lot of time playing Desert Falcon and Castlevania, thinking stoned thoughts of fear, loathing and sex.

As should be expected, it’s bit of a mess, a pffft wet raspberry. Rainbow Panda’s cover art is a swirling crowd of said colorful bears and sundry tiny menacing mutant doodles, including a straight row of Pac Men lined up against a big Ghostie. But amongst the cartoon flotsam and crayola grotesque, whirling in squiggles and dots, there creep vagina dentatas, mutant beasts and racial provocations (on closer look, that Ghostie in blackface) strewn through fields of fluids and poo. On the inside of the booklet, a crepuscular froth of cells spews forth from the splayed legs of a supine blue woman.

And it ends up sounding like the mid-90’s electronic basement experiments of the Magnetic Fields—that is, if their poppy were psychotropic. Rather than go retro for the music of his formatives, Corradetti’s songs recreate the claustrophobic sonic spaces of early game worlds, appropriating the tinny bleeping assaults into woozy sound collages, songs glued together with an ear that is arch, at times grating and other times charming. Guitars whine and churn against effects processed out of their 16 bits and into gauzy murk, and the songs actually rock, sort of, in a smirky leering kind of way that wouldn’t be nearly as effective with more streamlined production.

“My Animal” is a robo-vamp come on, its synths swaying left to right and back again with frilly pastel sleaze. The lyrics won’t make anyone laugh, but the riff is hilarious—a semi-self-conscious attempt at menace that ends up both awkward and groovy, like the soundtrack to a DV indie remake of the Crying Game, with Metroid’s Samus cast in the lead role.

It also helps that the record is more varied than it sounds at first. It smugly reveals the peculiar ruddy charm of a bedroom project: even if each idea isn’t perfectly articulated, it’s hard to complain because they just keep coming with little care to cohere. Though it might be obscured at first by the skuzzy electro grime, Mixel Pixel steals glances at all corners of indie pop, instantly conjuring any number of comparisons that don’t hold quite as strong by the end of the songs. “Holsters” shifts mood and setting drastically, an acoustic tumble strung through with electric live wires until finally a terse passage of call-and-delayed-response takes a good five or six beats more than expected. The song still manages to namecheck Maniac Mansion. Just a few tracks later, “Oh! The Summer People” matches Summer Hymns and Flaming Lips for wide-eyed trippy washes of pastoral color.

The keypad press-off jam that everyone’s waiting for hits full force more than halfway into the album, and the restraint pays off explosively. “Psych Mofo” plays as the Gameboy version of “Waiting For My Man,” and the rapid-fire attack break-down is extended and furious. This guy’s not just pressing all the buttons at once, he’s got radfingers. It could have been a blown load if unleashed early on, but when it does come, you’ve almost forgotten to expect it.

According to rather unofficial internet sources, Corradetti was once under evaluation for schizophrenia. He turned to music as a way of both justifying his independence and focusing his energy onto something positive. Who knows if this is true, but it’s a familiar story in any case, one that locates a song like “The Boy With the Saddest Eyes”--derivative as it is of any number of bands you might have heard, plodding as it does through the simplest bloops and riffs on the album--in the long historical nexus between schizophrenia and outsider art, blunt tools and glorious music:

“Do you know what it means to find God/When the time is yours to climb/past the borders of this town/from the meanings in her face/and the cops in their golden crowns/everyone you know is there/but no one seems to mind/the boy with the saddest eyes they’ve ever seen/in their wildest stupid fancifullest dreams.”

If the lyrics are about as profound as the journal of a nine year old, and melodies are as lazy as a thirteen year old, then the moods are fraught with the crackling anomie of a seventeen year old. Paranoid and vaguely aware of its own doomed formula, an LCD noir.

Thankfully, the album closes on a highlight, “Body Automatic,” which saves it from at least one lower level of anonymity. Finally, like a twee Beck, Corradetti unfetters what you’ve expected all along to be his sweet and hopeful bright spot. School sucks and he’s had it, he declares with Kaia Wong’s encouragement in the backing vocals, and at the very thought of happily obliterative abstraction he finally sounds joyful and optimistic, twangy and flourescent, relaxed and bright: “Well I wish I was a hundred spaces/scattered in a hundred places.” In our adulthood, the psychological geometry of Atari is good for little more than ironic nostalgia, but time is still with us when more seemed tangible--unknown but surely a place that we could get to. Then suddenly, we’re free at last from the small rooms of teen age, yet unprepared for the much more difficult levels of life that were never imagined. Corradetti’s urging seems both poignant and dire: “Gotta get in to the new flow body automatic.”

By Greg Bloom

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