French composer Claude Debussy once said that music is the silence between notes. Though the garage-rock tones of Mutemath couldn’t possibly be what Debussy had in mind, Odd Soul, their latest release, appears to abide by Debussy’s observation. The songs on Odd Soul take as much delight in artfully skipping a beat as they do by laying one down. And despite lead singer Paul Meany’s scratchy delivery, the music seems to inexplicably owe as much to jazz as it does to alternative rock. Perhaps it is the way drummer Darren King takes joy in playing around with rhythm, Regardless, Odd Soul gives Mutemath ample opportunity to show off. (See funky cut “Prytania” for ear candy gold.)
About five tracks in, something changes. Songs like the title track have been about stripping a musical style down to the bare essentials. It’s been carried, and carried well, by a scratchy yell, backed with bold rhythms and minimal ostentation. But from the moment track number five opens with a restrained beat and a light melody rather than a drum roll and a shriek, things become lush. Mutemath take a sound that they’ve broken down to basically drums, shouting, and silence, and they start building it up again with more complex instrumentation and songs that are powered by glittering strands of melody rather than rough-and-tumble lyrics. Basslines become thick enough to cut with a knife. Meany’s voice even goes from Christian Bale Batman granite to cognac smooth (although most of what he sings is not any more comprehensible).There’s even a very euro-techno sounding backbeat. “All or Nothing” still sounds like the band from the previous five tracks, but the stylistic shift is bold enough to alienate listeners.
With Odd Soul, Mutemath have found a way to deliver an album that is not only catchy; they have found a way to turn pop-hooks into genuine art.
For the rest of the album, Mutemath dance up and down each extreme: “Sun Ray” is so low-key it would fit right at home on Sufjan Steven’s Illinois, while “Allies” plays like a lost B-side from the new Kings of Leon record. It’s a daring foray into experimentation, but one that leaves the audience hanging; Mutemath seem content to tease the audience without ever fully committing to the eclecticism certain cuts (notably “Sun Ray” and “Walking Paranoia”) hint at.
It’s worth talking here about what Mutemath is not: despite a handful of pretentions, Mutemath are never a lyrical band, nor are they really a reflective band. The vocals are nice, but are more likely to vanish into the mix rather than stand independently on their own– the words are nearly impossible to decipher. Anyone searching for deeper meaning will need to consult the aid of a lyrics sheet (or in this day and age, songlyrics.com).
“In No Time” is a memorable conclusion not for its sense of closure, but for being the Odd man out: it brings things to a halt where anything else on the record would kick the melodies into high gear. Given this is a band that keeps the pedal very firmly to the metal, this comes somewhat as a surprise. It is this sense of the unexpected that propels Odd Soul ahead of most ‘alt-rock’ records. With this release, Mutemath have found a way to deliver an album that is not only catchy; they have found a way to turn pop-hooks into genuine art.
Meany and company are true craftsmen, and listening to them work is a lot of fun. Anyone who fails to move during the record is an Odd Soul indeed; if “Prytania” doesn’t make you want to move, you might want to make sure your legs are still attached.
Mutemath – Odd Soul tracklist:
- “Odd Soul”
- “Blood Pressure”
- “Heads Up”
- “All Or Nothing”
- “Sun Ray”
- “Walking Paranoia”
- “One More”
- “In No Time”