MUTE MATH want you to believe they’re post-rock. Live, they own the stage, and their antics dominate presentation—which speaks volumes about the songs—but in the studio, they eliminate those freestyles almost entirely, even if they try to compensate with so much “whizz-bang pop.” Most of the tracks on Armistice are too short to venture far from the familiar, but production is too busy to allow Mute Math to be pegged entirely as mere 80s revivalists either. All this tastes like confusion, both on the part of the band themselves, and their producer, who had the unfortunate task of trying to make sense of all these disparate parts.
As a sophomore album, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, and soulless to boot, in spite of a couple attempts to seem otherwise. When they’re not playing sensitive rock stars and simply let the bells and whistles be what they are, Mute Math satisfy in a geeky way. Ballads like “Clipping” and “Lost Year” don’t resonate because we know they don’t mean them; these musicians only seem comfortable with amps up to eleven, distorted bass lines that push the best car stereos to their limit, and tinny, looped drum lines. A slow-burner is like a wrench in the clockworks, because heart doesn’t fare well when it’s competing with a host of noises.
That’s not to condescend to their risk-taking, only to suggest that the biggest risk of all is for them to stop taking themselves so seriously. One moment stands out as a complete success, because it’s hard to believe that such mechanical music could at times be so sexy. “Electrify” is a triumph of Paul Meany’s vocals, which play the part of a loner who wants desperately to be sacked by the object of his affections. A description fails, because it’s the “oohs” and “ahhs” and half-spoken words that drip sexual tension without ever crossing the line. Ironically, the band keeps doing what they’ve always done—“More! More! More!”—and the track works in spite of it. “Goodbye” also throbs and pulses, albeit with the energy of a rave or high school party rather than wantonness. Either of these could easily find a place on Billboard, which will shock and offend diehards who would sooner die than see this band reduced to a radio hit or two. Get mad: Armistice sounds best when Mute Math cull the excess fat and punch out three minute tunes.
“Backfire” and “Armistice” are two more winners—the latter with a simply awesome selection of horns, which proves that the band don’t need to forsake their ambitions entirely, just dial them down a bit. Flamboyance goes down more easily when it’s peppered through an album’s running time instead of clubbing the audience to death at every turn. Note to Meany and company: nuance is much appreciated. Love, your avid listeners.
Let’s forget for a moment that the band’s live show is such a spectacle. Would anyone stumbling across their studio work be that impressed? Barring what we know about their stage presence, Mute Math is about as “prog” as their peers in CCM: not at all. This is the story of a band with a dual nature, known by two separate audiences for completely different reasons. And, try as I might to elevate Armistice to a grand musical statement, it’s decidedly a confused work that gets itself torn in different directions for trying to maintain that duality—at one turn a pop-rock band with flair for the 80s, and at the other a collective of talented musicians who enjoy free-styling rather more than they do writing songs. That’s not to suggest it’s not a fun album. It is, but it’s no revelation.
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