Music Review: Mutemath - Vitals

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Music Review: Mutemath - Vitals

Release: November 13, 2015
Label: Wojtek Records
Tracks: 12
Time: 47:47

When one enjoys the music of so many artists and bands, it can be a challenge keeping up with new releases. I have always enjoyed the music of Mutemath, an Alternative group from New Orleans. Somehow I missed the news of the release of their Vitals album, the band’s latest studio release of all-new material. While visiting family over the recent year-end holidays, a hunt for something new to listen to led me to this album and its 12 songs.

The first attention-getter was the strong dance beat that is infused into almost every track. Somewhat inexplicably - the genre has simply had little draw for me previously - I have become more interested in Electronic Dance Music in recent months. This is normally not even on my radar screen, although my interest in Electronica and synthesizers is deeply rooted. However, the craftsmanship of this album reaches far beyond most EDM that I have encountered on my track hunts. Thoughtful lyrics, expressive vocals sung with tonal accuracy, rich synth textures, clean, precise recording, a mix attentive to image clarity and exquisite sonic detail, all set this album apart from most new music I have encountered in recent years. Paul Meany describes the group’s recording and self-production process for the album as mainly subtractive - they had to strip away all that was not needed to get to the layered but uncluttered release we now enjoy. And M
eany’s vocal recordings are nothing less than an enigma. With each phrase one is left wondering, did he belt it out or was it barely whispered? Is it recorded with huge dynamic range or did a compressor smash it to smithereens? And not a syllable is lost or covered up or less than absolutely clear on any track.

I was quite blown away, and over a two-week period I listened beginning-to-end almost daily, and several times did so twice back-to-back, an immersion experience to be sure.


Tracks
"Joy Rides" starts out with an atmospheric swell and a strong kick drum beat that says, “Dance!”

Lyric lines like “Our feelings don’t get hurt any more,” and “Joy rides on the sun,” set the pace for a set of songs that stay upbeat and interesting at the same time. “So, smile!” The assumption that music has to be dark to be interesting is completely ignored in the work of Mutemath. Any temptation to get bored is not allowed to take root with all that goes on in these tastefully-layered tracks.

"Light Up" and "Monument" continue with similar beats. Drums sounds are sometimes real drums, sometimes samples, sometimes synthesized, and guitar licks appear here and there, although the electronic sounds remain prominent.

"Stratosphere," one of my two favorite tracks, keeps you guessing at the main key with its delayed bass line, and the track’s lyrics and texture both give a stratospheric lift. More than once I wondered if a new category altogether might be in order for the quality of Paul Meany’s lyrics.

"All I See" slows the pace to give the listener a chance to try to keep up with the flow of ideas through one of Meany’s meatier sets of lyrics. "Vitals" and "Bulletproof" are two instrumentals that made me think of the albums by the B-52’s, one of my all-time favorite bands. While it is atypical of the music I usually enjoy, there was always a fun instrumental track on each album. Odd samples and playful melodies abound that say as well as any tracks I can think of: Music can be fun!

"Composed," another slower-paced track with lyrics and melody, inspires while remaining deceptively simple. The ending blends right into "Used To," my other favorite of the album, which moves at the same tempo but with such power that it seems much faster. This track is one of several using handclaps and/or finger snaps for a more soulful element in an album that might otherwise be thought of as dry by those who shy away from Electronica.

"Best of Intentions" is the one track that I initially felt was a notch lower in strength, until I realized it was an awkward word usage in the chorus that was bugging me. I was probably the only odd soul to notice it or be bothered, so I have been working to let it go, just as Paul suggests: “I’d like to help you get those hang-ups under control, but I’ve got far too many of my own.” Once the track gets moving, the dance beat is nothing short of infectious. "Safe If We Don’t Look Down" is another of those tracks that just makes me feel good every time I hear it, quiet but powerful. Suspended between the earth and space is the feeling in so many of these songs.

The closing track, "Remain," one of the best examples of that enigmatic recording quality on Paul’s voice, is hard for me to hear without an extra measure of emotion. An anthem of hope in the vein of Todd Rundgren’s Just One Victory, it seems like the perfect way to end an already uplifting album.

“I’ve been breaking and repairing everything that I make,
Just to feel important and worth the little space that I take.

Just keep trying, just keep fighting, just keep going, just keep surviving.
Just keep walking, just keep breathing, just keep hoping, just keep believing.”


Conclusion
I enjoy the darker tones and lyrics and their complex emotional tugs as much as the next appreciator of classic rock, but sometimes a body just needs a lift. While I have never been personally drawn to the music genres that use positivism to make a doctrinal point, the works of Mutemath, and the Vitals album especially, seem to fill a need today for music that just feels good and does it in a way totally transparent of that intention, no small feat. If you can hear it without dancing a bit, you are probably paralyzed, and might appreciate these track even more than the rest of us. This album definitely deserves a listen. Or two, or three. or...

  1. "Joy Rides" - 4:00
  2. "Light Up" - 3:41
  3. "Monument" - 3:33
  4. "Stratosphere" - 3:55
  5. "All I See" - 3:47
  6. "Vitals" (instrumental) - 3:58
  7. "Composed" - 2:54
  8. "Used To" - 4:15
  9. "Best of Intentions" - 3:34
  10. "Bulletproof" (instrumental) - 3:39
  11. "Safe If We Don't Look Down" - 4:39
  12. "Remain" - 5:52
TOTAL TIME - 47:47
 
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Jack

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Thank You for bringing this band up Wayne, I had not heard of them before but I like this music very much. I will be looking into more of their work :T
 

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I've never heard this band either... very curious though. I've always appreciated certain kinds of techno / elctronica... this sounds like a group that I might like.

Great review Wayne!
 

Todd Anderson

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Wayne, I think you've tuned me on to something new!

Thanks, Brother!
 

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Alright... I'm going old school and order the CD!

Check that... ORDERED!
 

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Hmmm... I will have to listen.
 

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now I'm curious. Never even HEARD of them till now.
 

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Wayne - digging this album. :T
 

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It was areal surprise to me. I knew I liked Mutemath, but this album is breaks new ground in so many sonic and music categories that it is worth taking a look at.
 

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Ehhh.... I guess I'll be the odd man out... just not doing it for me. Reminds me too much of the late 70's disco style music. Not that I didn't like that style of music back then, but not today.
 

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Ehhh.... I guess I'll be the odd man out... just not doing it for me. Reminds me too much of the late 70's disco style music. Not that I didn't like that style of music back then, but not today.
It didn't work for me either but at least I tried.
 

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It didn't work for me either but at least I tried.
Some like chocolate, some like vanilla ... some like both. There is a lot of music that Wayne and I both like, that is for sure.

If only we all liked the same music and bought the same speakers...
Yeah really... how boring would that be.

I could probably handle the instrumental tracks okay on this album, but the singing is really what turned me off.
 

AudiocRaver

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In my experience, music is the most personal of all the arts. It can be really difficult to predict what an individual will like or not like. I was honestly surprised that I liked it as much as I did. From description alone I would have predicted that I would not like it. But then from description alone I would have predicted that I would not like the B-52's, and they are one of my favorites.

Part of it for me is that I have always liked synthesizer / electronic tracks, and most of these are strong in that regard.
 

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Part of it for me is that I have always liked synthesizer / electronic tracks, and most of these are strong in that regard.
Same here. Probably mostly due to my introduction to and immediate fondness for Genesis at a very young age. The problem is, synthesizers make it easy to create music, which has led to a lot of bad music. To piggy-back off some of your comments in the review... thankfully there are artists with enough skill to bring synth elementst far beyond the genres they are typically associated with. I find myself listening more and more to music that would probably be classified as electronic, except it's actually well composed. (in contrast to the flat repetitive garbage found in most dance clubs or on the top 100's)

Side note: Wayne - do you plan to do regular music reviews, or was this mostly prompted by the discovery of an album you like?
 

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Have you ever listened to LCD Soundsystem? Try the album Sound of Silver. See how that plays to your ears...
 

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Or The Blue Man Group. Try the album Three at the highest quality you can get. Sonic bliss my friend. :daydream:
 
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AudiocRaver

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I do intend to do regular music reviews. And I appreciate your suggestions for other groups to try out.

My sentiments precisely that a lot of synth/loop based music is so oversimplified that it SOUNDS easy and is therefore boring. Having created some original synth-based music, I can testify that it can be incredibly easy for a lazy or unskilled composer (not dissing the best efforts of those who are just getting started and giving their best effort - many growth processes involved), and the infinite variability can be taken to creative extremes that delight the experienced listener.

And I LOVE TIDAL, because it is so easy to experience new groups and tracks just as fast as you hear about them, with studio/master quality!

Edit: Sonnie, you are a good man, thanks for giving them a try and reporting your honest opinion.
 

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Now you've got me interested Wayne. I absolutely love synthesizers in music. The likes of Supertramp come to mind, and great lyrics. I'll give it a try, time for something new!
 

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It didn't work for me either but at least I tried.
The first half of the album didn't hold enough promise for me to continue sampling their wares. There may be a sleeper in there I haven't discovered, but that's my loss.

Have you ever listened to LCD Soundsystem? Try the album Sound of Silver. See how that plays to your ears...
Maybe not in the same league, but I relish the concert video and documentary of their last performance, Shut Up and Play the Hits. A recording of same was released under the title The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden.

In my experience, music is the most personal of all the arts. It can be really difficult to predict what an individual will like or not like. I was honestly surprised that I liked it as much as I did. From description alone I would have predicted that I would not like it. But then from description alone I would have predicted that I would not like the B-52's, and they are one of my favorites.

Part of it for me is that I have always liked synthesizer / electronic tracks, and most of these are strong in that regard.
Thank you for introducing me to the B-52's full catalog at Sonnie's during the DAC shootout. I painted their style with too thin a brush, and was pleasantly surprised to find out I liked a lot of the demo material you used. Sadly, I lost track of the songs and will need to sort through some sound bites to rediscover them.

After reading the reference to the B-52's in your review, I thought I'd like Mutemath as well, so I provide at least one instance of living proof that it's difficult to predict what people will like.
 

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I am glad you gave them a try, that is all one can ask.
 
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