We all like to gloat about how a current hot new artist is in fact an old favourite of ours. You know that an “I knew about them before they were famous” lets some of us have the glow of esoteric knowledge on our faces, and lets some of us get laid too. No? Well, I see people posting a thousand and one wierd artist names on their Facebook and Orkut pages copied verbatim off Wikipedia lists, and I can’t help but scoff. If you are one of them (you know who you are)….damn you’re pathetic.
Anyway, even though I’m positive that very few of you will have heard of Mutemath, I won’t claim them to be either underground or esoteric. What they are though is fresh, new and destined for commercial success. Armistice happens to be their second album (the first is reviewed HERE), and after that one, I’m was happily looking forward to this. These guys have what can broadly be called an Alternative Rock sound, but they have a much more electronica and rhythm section oriented sound than say, Radiohead. In other words, the guitar player isn’t as forward in the mix as you would normally expect, while the drums and bass (especially drums) occupy a large portion of your headphone space. It’s a unique and pleasant sound.
Very few of you will have heard of Mutemath, but I won’t claim them to be either underground or esoteric.
All this is great, ’cause these guys are musically very accomplished. Non-resolving and unexpected rhythms (“Clipping”, “Backfire”) meld with typical modern rock bass and guitars and soundscapey keyboards. And radio-ready hooks. When I first heard “Spotlight”, I thought it sounded a bit too desparate for some airplay nookie. But that hook is so infectious, that I soon found myself singing along to it. Good shit. And the same thing can be heard all over the album. Thankfully, before I started thinking ‘sell outs’, I was introduced to some of the more esoteric cuts. Stuff like “Odds” and “Pins and Needles”, for instance, will have drummers enjoying the loud drums and mind**** rhythms.
Unlike the first album, which was largely based on bass-hooks, this one has more vocal hooks from singer/keyboardist Paul Meany. I don’t have much to say about him, other than that he writes good lyrics (“The Nerve”, “Clipping” etc.) and has a properly pop-rock voice. Which is all wonderful and great and hunky dory.
Except it’s not.
See, in a commercial, single-oriented band like this, it is de rigeur to have a distinctive voice. It needn’t be pleasant. It needn’t have the range or Robert Plant or even be as sweet as puppy breath. It needs to be distinctive. Is Chris Martin’s singing immediately palatable? Is Noel Gallagher’s voice always smooth and tuneful? Heck, is Atif Aslam ever in key!? No, but all of them are distinctive. As unfair as it is, unique voices sell in the marketplace, not great bass players or kick-ass drumming (both of which Mutemath has, FYI). So I say, the only thing that is stopping Mutemath from world domination now is a singer with a charismatic voice. It could be eccentric enunciation. It could be hoarseness. It can be done. But they need it quick.
And that is a pity, because Meany is an excellent frontman, as he is good looking and a charismatic performer to boot. And the whole band has an often chaotic performance style involving breaking stuff, jumping around and playing each other’s instruments. Even their on-stage placement is unique, with them playing side-by-side on stage rather than with the drummer being out back. So as you can see, they have their shit together. Yes, this album has some annoying cuts like “Burden” and “Lost Year”, but that is forgivable for what is still a very young band. Damn, if only Meany’s singing was more unique, this would sound very right.
– El Bajista
All MUTEMATH reviews HERE.
All ALTERNATIVE ROCK reviews HERE.
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