Mutemath’s sophomore album (if you’re only counting the full-length LPs and the Warner Bros.’ releases) dropped two days ago. I preordered it, something I’d never done in the several years that I’ve had iTunes, so I was almost startled Tuesday at the crack of midnight, when it became available to me. (What? So soon?) I downloaded it immediately thereafter. I was flying to Grand Rapids from Baltimore that day, so I didn’t get a chance to listen to it in earnest until I was at the airport, and even then I resisted.
You want your first listen to a new project by your favorite band of all time to be exclusive and undivided and hallowed.
So when we boarded the plan at 2:20 pm, only to learn from our pilot that we’d be captive on the tarmac for at least an hour, I finally pulled out my iPod.
I’ll admit that, on first listen, I wasn’t entirely impressed with this album. There are songs on it that practically scream: “Maybe this’ll be the one that lands us that headlining gig at Madison Square Garden!”
I almost let myself feel a bit betrayed—and I’m usually not one of those toolish indie band fans who gets genuinely irritated when its band “goes mainstream.” I’m usually not one of those people who has to stand on a soapbox and rage into a bullhorn, “I knew them when! I had them first! You don’t deserve them!”
Because it’s pretty lame to get downright proprietary about people you don’t even know.
Even so, this wasn’t the Mutemath to which I’d grown accustomed. The sounds on Armistice are milder, quieter, tamer (appropriate, given the album title, but still). Whither the Paul who shouted through most of the tracks, backed by frenetic percussion and landfill-funky bass? Whither the songs that allow you to envision exactly the moment at which Paul will handstand on his organ in concert? These songs simply weren’t as full of bangs and blasts and crackles and roars.
One thing seemed certain: gone were the days of the Atari.
So that’s where I was after two hours breathing recycled air in a dingy aircraft cabin. But then I got back home and relistened to the album about five more times. I talked to a friend. I listened again. I’m listening right now.
I was wrong in the airplane. This thing is great.
It’s what most sophomore albums are: a display of uncomfortable growth, of misfit wiggling, of searches for footing on unfamiliar industry territory. And it’s also what most sophomore albums wish they were: successful at its reaching. It isn’t so much rebel yell as rebel whisper this time. But it still sounds better than most of the market it wishes to court.
It’s much better, for instance, than Carolina Liar’s album. Even with its pared down tones and melodies, it’s far, far more interesting than Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. And I think it goes without saying that Paul will always be a better singer than Bono.
When I envisioned this blog entry, I saw a track-by-track analysis, but sadly, I don’t have time for all that this morning. Not only that, I have the listening party bonuses and the iTunes exclusive bonus track. That’d take it up to 15 individual analyses. I’d rather not.
Suffice it to say, buy this album. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a curious onlooker, there’ll be something there for you. “The Nerve,” their lead single, is still amazing now that the album’s out:
“Backfire,” presumably their second single, opens with Paul practically jazz-slurring the verse and ending it with his trademark yell. This track also introduces what I believe is a running theme of the album: tons of meta commentary. “There goes another one of our/surefire plans/it backfired again” could very well reference the album they reportedly recorded in its entirety before scrapping it to write and record this one.
Other standouts for me include “Pins and Needles,” which charts that territory I’ve come to expect from Mutemath, the conflicted post-Christian reflection I discussed in my last entry about them (Consider lines like, “Obligations to my heart are gone. Superficial lines explain it all. Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles. Facades are a fire on my skin. I’m growing fond of broken people, as I see that I am one of them.” Stunning.) I also adore “Clipping,” “No Response” (which contains the pitch-perfect lines: “I won the gun fight in my head. I won the gun fight in my head. I gathered up thoughts left for dead. I won, I won.” and “and maybe when we reach the end, we’ll ask imaginary friends, ‘Why no response?’”) and “Goodbye,” a song I like to believe is an ode to God rather than a girlfriend or wife. (Don’t disturb my delusions. Thanks.)
“Electrify” is by far the weirdest track to listen to if you have any background on this band at all. As far as I can tell, it’s about the temptation of groupies. Familiar rock content, right? Not if you’re MuteMath, who’ve never so much as written the pronoun “she” into any of their previous work. It’s the first song they’ve ever released that’s overtly about a woman. It’s strange to listen to the guy I saw crowdsurfing with his wife in New York three years ago, pining, “She knows better than to try, but I’m hoping she might wear down… All I can think about is me and her, electrified. I hope someday she might go too far… take me home and lose control.”
Here’s the thing. These lyrics are noticeably awkward, full of euphemism and bland innuendo. The words just don’t sound very convincing, flying out of Paul’s mouth. He sings them with his usual verve, but I’m not buyin’ it. While this is an interesting turn for them, I really wish they’d left this one on the studio floor.
If you can get your hands on the 2nd line version of “Armistice,” featuring Rebirth Brass Band, do. It is a banger, I promise you. Very New Orleans. “Architecture” is great, too, if only for the chorus: “There’s no architecture, architecture. There’s no architecture for how I feel.” (Don’t we all feel that way? I wish there were some architecture for how I feel. Well, sometimes.)
Stop by Mutemath.com to check out their fall tour dates. While I’m bitter I had to move back to Grand Rapids after all, which means I’ll miss their September show at Sonar in Baltimore, I know I can catch them here on October 20 (though it won’t be nearly as fun because in Baltimore, there would’ve been Black people). But never mind my drama. Go listen and buy.