Review Summary: After a stunning debut, the synth rockers take a back seat to creativity and connection and focus on coloring between the lines.
Earlier this month, Mute Math vocalist Paul Meany started painting a discouraging picture with statements about Armistice
: ”Anyone who thinks [our] first album is perfect will hate this [new] record.”
This would-be-modest statement ends up backfiring when it comes to realization that I couldn’t agree more. If you truly loved the irregular rhythms, the big bluesy basslines you could get lost in, and the quickly accessible hook’n’reel from Mute Math’s debut, you may find yourself put off by Armistice
’s conclusively transparent complexion. This is no sudden epidemic for sophomore albums birthed from new, exciting rock bands that have a knack for finding a catchy riff in the deepest oceans of melancholy. I can surely understand the explanation of the group seeking new sounds, furthering their image and experimenting with all they can, but does it always mean a band is ‘maturing’ if they progressively become, well – lazy?
In no way is Armistice
a painful record. It even sounds as though it sails smoother than Mute Math’s self-titled debut. It keeps its lingering pace throughout the entire album with moments here and there of liveliness, but only a mere suggestion of aggression. The segments of chaotic instrumentation bombarding your ear drums are radically reduced to create an album more tilted towards an overall feeling of intermediation. Replacing Darren King's once intricate, kinetic drumbeats are sobbing strings you would only think to hear while riding a gondola. For scenic projections, this is suitable but what made the band so absorbing in the first place was the prospering relationship between the drum and bass. Take the title track, for instance, where a skilled and animate Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas brings the song to life with a bassline claiming its rightful place as nucleus of the melody. Juxtaposed to frantic handclaps layered over the steel frame drumbeat, the song gets perfect leeway to travel where it wants and does. Acting as a soother more than an invitation to an energy field, ‘big brass’ chimes in to keep the edges round.
So there are positive aspects in the slower songs afterall. They're great for a creativity boost when you find yourself half-listening, most likely, to the album. The jazzy “Pins And Needles” dances around quietly with a Radiohead-esque piano/ride cymbal combination and unthreatening vocals and proves itself a highlight of the mellowed down and forgettable record.
When the tunes are more upbeat, like a personal favorite, “Backfire”, they are addicting. The only problem being that it seems to be the only hook they can think of and recycle it for their other fiery attempts. The cut-throat chorus and electronic hip-hop beat make the overdose of synthesizers sound acceptable while the song does its part to stir the water that’s too still for taste. The single “Spotlight” also falls in this category, but then adds onto the evidence of Mute Math's creative slump (which would never have been said about their debut). The formula reveals itself: washy 16th note hi-hat hits taking over a basic beat while Meany confuses the listener on whether or not he has a message, a hook, or anything at all.
It’s depressing at how forgettable the songs remain after countless listens. The vocal hooks are frustratingly rare and the distinct lack of talking between the bass and drums becomes Armistice
’s Achilles’ heel. What used to be such an intimate connection, capable of boosting them in front of other modern ‘synth rockers’, falls short of being a small spark. Let’s think of the advantages: for background music, this album is pretty interesting. I haven’t ignored the beauty of slow, detailed melody (a field in where “Clipping” shines greatly) – it’s just not compelling enough. So, yes, anyone who thinks Mute Math’s first album was perfect will find this disappointing. But…what does that leave for people who weren’t
as impressed with their debut as the band was?