“I have said to myself in a mirror’s company
‘Who’s that panicked stranger on his knees?’
All I want is to reset how I breathe
And slow down the fear I bleed.”

MuteMath, Vitals

My list of albums to listen to only moves in one direction, and it’s never shorter. Sometimes it means that I rush through first listens just to check them off the list, plugging my headphones while I work, but then I inevitably end up getting interrupted/distracted. What I’m always after is that moment when an album really clicks for me, when I hear something special in it that makes me want to give it another listen.

It took me longer than I’d like to admit to really get into Mute Math’s latest release, “Vitals,”  because I hadn’t sat with it long enough and only intently listened to sporadic tracks. But then, after a few listens to “Vitals” while walking around with headphones or relaxing in my apartment, I realized that my delayed respect for this record was actually the perfect way to get into it. “Vitals” unfolds much in the same way “Odd Soul” did, with high-energy openers that dissolve into slower-paced electronic deliveries. Catching a few of the verses brought to light the album’s message, one of hope and striving in the face of darkness, however real or imagined.

I love the hooks and choruses that color “Light Up” and “Monument,” I love the optimism in Paul Meany’s voice. There’s a lot of talk about the lack of Darren King’s excellent drumming on this record – he’s there, but not as much in the forefront as he once was – but the beats and rhythmic intensity of this band are as prominent as ever, if not shifting into a direction. I initially found myself wanting more guitars and fewer electronic noises, but I’ve come to accept this is simply Mute Math’s sound these days, evolving from a straightforward rock band to one that relies on the latest and greatest in sound technology to create a more ambient, full effect.

The result is something really shimmering, really light, really gorgeous like “Stratosphere” and “All I See.” While I’m inclined to find this kitschy, I love how bright it is, and how the same style of narratives stuck around, acting as a familiar hand guiding me out of my comfort zone. Mute Math is still a thinking man’s band, even if the sound seems designed to elicit dancing. They’re still at their strongest when they get into the groove, no matter what instruments are playing.

I think this is a really smart effort, one that focuses on a fun, forward sound without ridding the introspection this band has always channeled. Overall, it’s sleek, it’s lean, it’s a powerful little record that brightens up a room before pulling it ever-so-slightly inward. Few bands manage to match this much musical professionalism and intellectual honesty in their records, time and time again. As a fan, I don’t mind the evolution, and as a listener, it’s a welcome change to indulge in something new.

“I’ve been dreaming
Dreaming of a day in the end
Waiting for someone
To wake me from the dream that I’m in

I’ve been confiscating
Every shred of hope that I can
I keep on mistaking
The future for the places I’ve been

Always the same
Always, forever, we remain
Always the same
I’m dying just to keep my place.”

MuteMath, Vitals