Mute Math | Mute Math (Teleprompt)

Viewed from a distance, all of the elements of a great band are present, yet the album never coalesces into anything more than a vaguely engaging listen. Sample rating: 2+2=3.75.

Sometimes Calculus just gets in the way. One needs to know very little math in order to review music. Greater than, less than, equal to. That is pretty much it. For example, Mute Math is greater than Travis, less than Elbow, equal to Lovedrug. Simple enough. The problem is defining the variables. Everything is relative to the two things you are comparing. Under a microscope, Mute Math’s self-titled full length fares well. Nothing is out of place, so its status is at least equal to most contemporaries. Although the terrain is littered with signifiers of “experimentalism,” it is done well. Viewed from a distance, all of the elements of a great band are present, yet the album never coalesces into anything more than a vaguely engaging listen. Sample rating: 2+2=3.75. I was always better at English than math, though.

Mute Math are a bit of a one-minute wonder. The album starts off promising, with the spectral screams and martial drumming of “Collapse” bleeding into the crashing opening riff of “Typical.” However, after a couple of minutes in, they’ve sqandered all their tricks. I’m not saying they aren’t really good tricks—well-arranged atmospheric buzzes, anthemic vocals, and a drummer that must look like a Hindu god as he’s flailing all eight arms at once—they just seem to show no restraint piling them on at once. The album is densely layered, but all within a sonic midrange. Although it isn’t the best song on the album, my favorite moment is “You Are Mine,” solely because it sounds so relaxed against the frenetic pace of the rest of the album. Some of the most inspired passages are the instrumental interludes such as “After We Have Left Our Homes,” but they barely make it past a minute each, abandoned at the cusp of sublimity. All that’s left are ephemeral, soft-focused outbursts in which the band allows itself some time to think.

Although proficient in studio wizardry, it is clear that the band’s true format is in front of an audience—so much so that they initially only sold the CD at live shows. More than anything else, it is this mindset that leads to the saturation of sound on the album. Everything is geared for effect and the tangible feeling of a direct correlation between sound and response. This leaves little room for subtlety in song structure or gradual development. There are enough interesting sounds to keep the headphone-philiacs busy, but the overall movement of most songs lends itself to live expression. Endemic to the album is the frustration of hearing the best elements disappear before they are fully developed, while lukewarm hooks are repeated on end.

Like so many post-Radiohead pseudo-experimentalists, they get all dressed up in interesting textures with nowhere to go. The band sounds as if they want to be all things to all people. Dynamic, but cautious. Avant-garde, yet massively popular. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that they will continue to exist a step away from success for this very reason. More marketable than the avant-garde, yet neither catchy enough for MTV nor innovative enough for the underground.


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