- Nov 21, 2016
- Lincoln, NE, USA
My AV System
- Preamp, Processor or Receiver
- Onkyo TX-SR705 Receiver
- Main Amp
- Crown XLS 1502 DriveCore-2 (x2 as monoblock)
- Additional Amp
- Behringer A500 Reference Power Amplifier
- Front Speakers
- MartinLogan Electromotion ESL Electrostatic (x2)
- Center Channel Speaker
- Phantom Center
- Surround Speakers
- NSM Audio Model 5 2-Way (x2)
- JBL ES150P Powered Subwoofer (x2)
Music Review: Mutemath - Vitals
Release: November 13, 2015
Label: Wojtek Records
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 Meany’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.
"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.”
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...
- "Joy Rides" - 4:00
- "Light Up" - 3:41
- "Monument" - 3:33
- "Stratosphere" - 3:55
- "All I See" - 3:47
- "Vitals" (instrumental) - 3:58
- "Composed" - 2:54
- "Used To" - 4:15
- "Best of Intentions" - 3:34
- "Bulletproof" (instrumental) - 3:39
- "Safe If We Don't Look Down" - 4:39
- "Remain" - 5:52