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Mute Math

1/18/17

News of an upcoming Mutemath album has me on pins and needles, in a good way. This band is such a force to be reckoned with, bringing a bold, brassy and proggy sound to alt-rock. Lately they’ve gone into this really electronic/sample-sounding space and while at first I was hesitant, I’ve come to embrace the atmosphere. Overall, it’s still an ensemble effort with every player giving their all and playing their strengths — Darren King continues to hold down intricate grooves and Paul Meany’s introspection is at a peak. Mute Math songs have always had a self-empowerment, self-reflective bent to them; often they wonder about ways to get by, or how to transform an ordinary life into one that’s extraordinary. It’s why they’re one of my go-to bands when I need a little motivation.

Last year’s teaser of a single, “Changes,” wound up leading off a bunch of remixes and reinventions to songs from 2015’s Vitals, an album I’ve really come to love for its smooth confidence and sophisticated parts. But the remixes were good, too, and “Changes” is novel and noteworthy in its own right. Is there any rock band who is as good as playing around with delay, echoing effects, back-up snaps and ringing, resonant bell tones? The latest batch of Mutemath songs are a little bit 70s, a little bit 80s, and a little bit now, always wrapped up with a hook or two. The prominent piano line harkens back to their earlier work — and so does the overall theme and message, about being stuck in a place while seeking more on the other side. Their latest press release pledges yet another evolution in their sound on their fifth studio LP, and I’m really looking forward to it, and in the nearer term, pouring over their catalog all day and letting their bright, bold sounds add some color to a grey day.

“I can hear pallid choirs sing
From their headstone hymnals now
I’m just suffering from changes
Locked outside for good
Paper cut by turning pages
Sitting under dust cause
I’m not understood…”

~Changes
Mute Math, Changes

5/3/16



“Aligning stars that you wait for
Always know if you’re holding back
Don’t slow yourself down anymore

We watch the days fly
While all the years try
Telling us something
Don’t waste a whole life
On just a half try

It’s all or nothing.”

~All Or Nothing 
Mutemath, Odd SOul

Whenever I tell people I’m into music, I have to do it somewhat sheepishly, bracing for what comes next. The natural follow-up question is usually some variant of “Well, who are your favorite artists?” and I think this is one of the most difficult questions to answer. My favorite today? My favorite who are active in this decade? My favorites from all-time? It all depends, and I cannot be asked to choose, out of fear of leaving out some great influence. Should it be favorite as defined as who you listen to the most in times of aimless soundtracking??

If we’re going by the latter definition, I’d unquestionably have to say Mutemath, as well as recommend them to any listener of rock music who has not yet uncovered them. I’ve listened to this band for close to a decade now (dammit, time!!!) and have only grown more attached to and impressed by their sound. The newest LP “Vitals” is a significant addition to their discography, reaching the top five of the alternative and rock charts, meaning any music fan who pays attention to new, big and happening bands ought to have come across them in some manner by now. 
I’ve spent enough time with them to issue this decree: “Odd Soul” is their best record. It’s the most eccentric. It’s their most assertive. It’s the record where they take risks as musicians, as a band and as writers, unafraid to be aggressive and loud and weird. It is a one-way, non-stop train to Groove City, no matter what kind of mood I’m in when I choose to play it.

When it debuted in 2011, I devoured it from start to finish, and it’s never gotten old. It’s never gotten tired, and the older I get, the more familiar its themes start to feel. It has an over-arching narrative of being yourself and pushing yourself to the limits, denying the doubts and scrubbing the haters from your mind, buoyed by the best drumming Darren King ever laid down and these proggy, spacey guitar riffs that just hammer on and on and on. From the off-beat senses of the intro into the discoesque “Prytania,” through the moody melodic “Cavalries,” this is an album where you can press play and let it go, riding it out until those gorgeous echoing synths closing “In No Time” fade out.

It’s become one of my go-to pick-me-ups for when I am feeling down on myself, or when the general malaise of a workday or life sets in. Because those moments are going to happen, those feelings are going to be unavoidable in the constant reviewing conducted by the emotional mind, but they do not need to rule the day. Instead of running from what hurts, what lurks, what is dark, we can can explore and wonder about and even celebrate the odd soul. We all have one.



“I was once a son, now I’m on my own
Wade through everyone and I’ve got myself to show
The trials and tribulations seem to always track me down
I’ll ride off into the sunset and try me another town

I’m an odd soul
Ah, yes an odd soul,
Walking side roads
‘Cause that’s the only way I know.

~Odd Soul 
Mutemath, Odd Soul

2/4/16



“Get lost in the dead of the night where once I lived on Grand Street.

Deaf from Chucks on bones crushed white. 
New Brooklyn bows before me. 
Soak it all in and let it run deep, glory in delusion. 
I can picture us, 
Waltz in the ruins of this wilted gray contusion.

Sometimes, when she’s far and I’m drunk, I clutch her like a compass. 
Never thought of being anything but quixotic and self-conscious. 
Some ache to guide your hand, to pull out of the socket. 
I’m the cricket that lets you burn while I smolder in your pocket.”
~Jiminy
Say Anything, I Don’t Think It Is

I didn’t know Max Bemis planned on releasing a new Say Anything record this week, so I was had an extra surprise when he started streaming it for free the day prior.

Sad to say I lost the plot on his records after “In Defense of the Genre,” which always felt like too much to wrap my head around despite some catchy standouts. This record feels far more organized than that, with the same outrage-inspired message. The musical maturity of Max Bemis since he stole a generation’s heats and minds on “…Is A Real Boy” is obvious, with more intricate parts and progressions, but the same tired, aggressive snarl.

Emotional expression remains the star of this show, even in newfound restraint – the end of “Attaboy,” in particular, features a nice sort of post-rock delicacy under screamed-in-despair vocals.  Track 2, “17 Cokes Up Speeding,” feels like a throwback, capturing the anxiety and depression Bemis has always channeled with punked-out chords and dizzying technique. There’s some really excellent guitar parts and harmony-filled hooks, and Darren King (brother-in-law by marriage to Bemis) is a strong addition to the sound (feel like I hear more of him behind a kit on this than I do on MuteMath’s “Vitals,” it seems, at least as far as that smooth, understated backbeat goes).   

As a musician, Max Bemis remains experimental – whether this is for its own sake or to underscore his messaging, I can’t be sure. He continues to plays around with spoken word and hip-hop samples, like on “Goshua” and odd choice for a closer “Varicose Visage” and I have to wonder what feedback he’s received. But then a track like “Jiminy” returns to the dramatic kickdrum-backed melodies and brilliantly twisted wordplay that have made the backbone of Bemis’ discography, full of buoyant grit and graceless glory.

I’m surprised how much I like this, having given up on Say Anything’s sound as a little too disorganized and radical for my tastes. I’ve preferred to hear Max Bemis acoustic or in Perma, like when I caught that show in December 2013.  But where “I Don’t Think It Is” veers into unfamiliar territory, it’s still a confessional ode to the art of grappling with the mind and its anxieties, which is an unsurprisingly comforting listen for me, for now, regardless.

“I’m 23 locked up in the asylum
Listening too much to my own album
Sent me spinning out death-wish-bound to forge a callous
Stomping on the seesaw where I balance
I’m at that age where I actually go to parties
And I sit in the back with a drink and let them judge me
While I pray to the devil that a hurricane comes to take us
We’ll be torn away from all the ways we fake trust

‘Hey, kid!
You’re not a kid anymore!
You’re not a kid anymore!’

 Said the fool to the mystic
“Be realistic!”

He replied with a lipstick sigil:
‘You always think too much and feel too little’

‘Hey, kid!
You’re not a kid anymore!

You’re not a kid anymore!’

Said the fool to the mystic
‘Be realistic!’
He replied with a lipstick sigil,

‘You always think too much and feel too little.‘”
~17 Coked Up Speeding
Say Anything, I Don’t Think It Is

12/30/15

“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.”

~Composed
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.”

~Remain
MuteMath, Vitals

5/7/15

“Where’s your heart gone
And where’s your soul?
Where did all of your faith go?
And where’s that old spark, a failure stole?
Well I bet we’ll find it in no time at all.”

I do not write often enough about how much I love Mute Math, or how excited I am by the promise of new material this summer.

Also, they’re funny on Twitter.
Lately I’ve been catching up on their live footage (which is insane, between Darren King being an octopus and Paul Meany crawling on the crowds) and random B-sides. Still I always come back to the closing track, “In No Time,” on “Odd Soul,” a wonderfully energized and enigmatic record, inventive with is sound and bold in its direction. This song is an easy standout. Something about the organ sound here strikes me as very Coldplay but it is far less pretentious, and is really something of a wind down after the whirlwind of the second half of the record. I love the patient-until-its-not build, with steady beats, hypnotic repetition and a melodic outro. This is one of those songs where the instrumentation tells the story as much as the lyrics, the story of rising from some sort of depths into back where you’re supposed to be. Taken as a whole, it is uplifting, without being sappy or syrupy. It acknowledges the broken things and identifies the only way to fix them: time.

“Where’s your nerve gone
And where’s your hope?
And where’s that sunrise you’ve been waiting for?
And where’s that one day you got it all?
Well I bet we’ll find it in no time at all
We’ll find it in no time,
We’ll find it in no time,
We’ll find it in no time,
We’ll find it in no time at all.

When the wars start falling on the world you had
Just hold tight, in no time we can get it back
When the skies come crashing on the world you had
Just hold tight, in no time we can get it back

We can get it back

We can get it back
We can get it back.”

~In No Time
Mute Math, Odd Soul

7/26/12

“Paper thin conviction
Turning another page
Plotting how to build myself to be
Everything that I am not at all

Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles
Facades are a fire on the skin
And I’m growing fond of broken people
As I see that I am one of them

I’m one of them
I’m one of them

Oh, why must I work so hard
Just so I can feel like the nobles ones?
Obligations to my heart are gone
Superficial lines explain it all

Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles
Facades are a fire on the skin
And I’m growing fond of broken people
As I see that I am one of them

Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles
Facades are a fire on the skin

Oh, and I’m growing fond of broken people
As I see that I am one of them

I’m one of them
~Pins and Needles
MuteMath, Armistice

11/8/11

Not only does this song have killer dynamics and trance-like timing per what we’ve come to know and love about Mutemath, but it’s got quite the message.

Also: note the keytar.

The crowds roll by and I’m falling in
Everyone’s invincible, but it’s just pretend
And we all freaked out, what a shame
When only tears know how to remind us we all break the same
We all break the same

Everything we’ve built could be our demise
It’s the sticks and stones that wear us down that often save our lives
And we all freaked out, what a shame
When only tears know how to remind us we all break the same
We all break the same

The different stars tonight will somehow fade the same
And all the tears we cry tell us we’re made the same
And when we fall aside, let’s hope we fall in place
We built our different lives, but they all break the same

Break the same

Different worlds and different hearts
Different souls and different parts
We all, we all break the same

~Break the Same
Mutemath, Mutemath

10/28/08

The new Mute Math, “Armistice,” is amazing.

Filled with all kinds of sounds, rhythms and melodies, the album is complex and patient, racing and stilling all in one. It’s a fantastic new sound, and I love this band for the sound they’ve created that’s truly theirs (though entering their name does result in a wonderful Pandora playlist.) It’s their second full length record, I believe, and it shows progression and maturity while crafting a signature sound.

I love this song, “Pins and Needles,” it’s got a wonderful message and a beautiful structure….note how awesome they sound live.

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