Friday, November 4, 2016

Music Review - Mutemath - Vitals

In truth this album kinda sucks. I've have it on my MP3 player and every time a song comes on via Shuffle I hit the skip button. Sorry, guys, but I think you missed the boat on this experiment.
It’s been four years since Mutemath released an album, although this isn’t exactly unusual as the band has only released four albums in ten years. What’s different this time is that the band has left their label and gone the crowd-funding route which gave them the freedom to do anything they wanted. Why they went the way they did befuddles me.

While Mutemath is known for following their muse and having a different sound on each album, for Vitals they went for an indie-Euro-pop sound. After listening to the first three songs I thought that my fifteen year old daughter might like them. She didn’t. So now I’m listening to Vitals over and over, wondering if it’s just that I’m not overly keen on the sound or if, for the first time in their career, Mutemath has dropped the ball. But back to those first three songs. All are upbeat and fun, sometimes bordering on disco, and all incorporate a lot of synth and electronic sounds. There’s not a lot of guitars and drummer Darren King, one of the best drummers playing today, isn’t able to do much within the pop framework. Still, the songs are catchy and would make great workout music for those inclined to abuse their bodies that way. “Stratosphere” sounds a bit more like the Mutemath of bygone days with a pulsing, urgent rhythm under dreamy vocals bathed in reverb, but “Used To” is anything but, incorporating low bass synths and a solid wall of keyboards in the huge chorus. The opening line of “Best of Intentions” shows the bands sly humor: “I’d like to help you get those hangups under control / But I’ve got far too many of my own.” The chorus of this song harkens back the seventies and totally knocks it out of the park.

While listening to the closing track, “Remain” it hit me that Mutemath might have been ingesting quite a bit of Phoenix. While Mutemath is certainly less twitchy than the French band, this new album definitely shares their synthy-pop vibe. This is driven home in the two instrumentals, “Vitals” and “Bulletproof”, which are both thoroughly engaging but completely different than anything the band has recorded previously although somehow still distinctly Mutemath.

This past weekend I had many songs from Vitals in my head, which is always a good indicator of quality tune-smithing. Indeed the songs are great fun to listen to and there are solid melodic hooks underneath all those keyboards, so it’s likely that my problem with the album, if I have a problem and I’m not sure I do, is that I expected indie-rock guitars and got Euro-pop synths. Perhaps I should have expected that Mutemath, a band who always defies expectations, would deliver the unexpected and just get over my hangups.

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