Mute Math – Armistice

I discovered Mute Math at the 2006 Warped Tour in Vancouver. I was wandering around in between sets by bands I wanted to see, and there was these four guys on the shittiest little stage there playing to about 15 people. I’m not sure whether I heard or saw it first, but either way, all four band members were in the middle of a Stomp-style jam, none really playing their instrument, the drummer was on top of the keyboard, playing a miked piano stool, the bassist was using a cymbal mallet to play an extra bass drum raised behind the drum kit, the guitar player held his pedalboard in the air, ‘playing’ the knobs, and the singer/keyboard player was stood beside the drums hitting cymbals and anything else he could find with a pair of drumsticks. At one point they even handed a homemade, theremin-like instrument to an audience member to play. Now, a lot of bands go into a noise jam, gradually destroying the song they were playing, and then kicking back in for one more chorus or something. It can be good if done tastefully. Mute Math took this to a whole new level though; their ‘noise’ jam actually sounded great too, it was just the chords and melody were forgone in favor of solely rhythm. Anyway, that was what drew me over to the stage, but then they came out of the jam back into the song and they were awesome. Wicked singer, accessible but interesting melodies, INTENSE drummer, powerful but inventive rock bass, tasteful use of guitars and keys, not the usual thrash and chug you hear at warped tour, and most of all, a shitload of energy. I stayed for the rest of the set, and at the end asked them who the hell they were and where I could get some of their music, along with thanking them for a great show. I came home with their only album and eagerly showed it to my roomate, who was underwhelmed, and even I had to admit the recording was missing a lot of what I had experienced that day. I don’t think I have ever seen a better example of a band being better live than recorded. I have since seen them a couple other times, brought friends, told friends in other cities to see their shows, and every single one of these people, no matter their taste in music, was amazed. One fellow music nerd who was not blown away when I showed him the record spent most of the show with a big grin on his face, and after the show he bought their cd, now understanding how my brain managed to change what I heard when I played the record. I was always hoping that it was a small recording budget that robbed the album of the live show’s intensity and energy. With their new album, I felt that Mute Math had the chance to somehow capture all of that on tape.
Overview
This album is not what I had hoped for. The drums and bass mostly get drowned by the vocals and keys, and songs that could rock your socks off are subdued and almost end up sounding like mediocre adult-alternative. I think as a whole, it is significantly more tame and reserved than the last album.
My view is certainly biased by my extremely high hopes. Mute Math does makes pop music with an inventiveness and originality rarely seen, and even when they ape current top 40 styles, dance, or disco, it is surprisingly good.
Other than the visual energy of their performance, I felt Mute Math’s live show was better because it sounded like every instrument could be heard more clearly than on the album (except for some of the electric piano and keyboard bits), while feeling well balanced at the same time. Also, the quiet sections were quieter and had more space to them, and the loud sections were louder and more bombastic. Maybe there are just too many overdubs or too much compression on the album, or maybe it’s just not possible to cram that much awesomeness into every track of a recording.
I was very disappointed with a lot of the lyrics on this album. Simple love and/or lust songs can be alright once in awhile. I actually really like a lot of sappy stuff. I just feel that a writer who is capable of speaking to our humanity or commenting on society has much more valuable things to say regarding love than in “Electrify” or “Lost Year”.Very one-dimensional and uninspiring for a guy who wrote “Break the Same” (from the previous album) and “the Nerve”.
I still can’t wait to hear this album live, I have yet to be disappointed in any way by a Mute Math show.
Highlights
The Nerve – probably one of the rockin’est songs on the album, with some sweet changes in dynamics. The chorus really reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it right now. If I remember, I’ll edit the post.
Pins and Needles – I know I complained about the lack of rock on this album, but this quiet song is quite good. I think the in-between elevator stuff like “No Response” or “Lost Year” should be ousted in favor of more stuff like this. I really respect a band that can keep a song low key the whole way through, yet still have it go somewhere. So many bands have these pretty acoustic or atmospheric songs that end with a big, loud version of the chorus at the end, so instead of sounding different, the song ends up sounding like all their other ones, but with a quiet bit tacked onto the start.
Armistice – Upbeat song with some cool horns. I’m starting to think I have a thing for horns. Maybe it’s because they add an orchestra-like feel to a song, but unlike strings, we haven’t heard them on a bajillion recordings in the last two decades. I wonder how this one will translate live, seeing as they tend to play on pretty cramped stages already, I don’t think they’ll be able to squeeze in a horn section.

Burden – This is more like Mute Math is live. A long song that is long because there are different things happening, and each instrumental break is short enough that you don’t lose interest a la the Mars Volta and their six minute latin jams mid-song.

Music Nerdery

I saw a video of the band recording some loops for the album in the bathroom of the house they were using as a studio. They were mostly percussion but also included some xylophone, and at least a few times in the video, some of the samples were played backwards. I thought these were cool and was a little sad that they seemed to get buried in the mix, but I think that’s what you can hear at the start of “Armistice” and “Burden”.
Recommendations
Download and listen to the whole thing, the songs are far from boring, and you might hear something I missed due to being pissed off with the lack of Rawk. Don’t buy it. GO TO A LIVE SHOW IF THEY PLAY ANYWHERE NEAR YOU. Bring friends. Say thanks and buy a t-shirt or something if they impress you.
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