Mute Math's Armistice

Image: Armistice

Well now, it has been a while. Nearly a year in fact, which is approximately a third of the time that Mute Math has kept their fans waiting for a new full-length album. I'm going to start now by doing exactly what they have done, by alienating about half the fans with a strange new direction. Yes, I'm going to review a music CD.

Now I realise that quite early on Paul Meany stated that people who loved the first album probably won't like the sophomore, and I'll state right now that I thought the first album, referred to from here on as 'STDA' (or 'self-titled debut album'), was almost perfect. From that you can probably deduce the direction for the rest of this review.

Now, I don't hate it. In fact it will probably be spending the next few months in pride of place on my MSN 'What am I listening to' display. However, there's plenty of things about the new album that have left me out in the cold.
To start, the whole album has been ruthlessly trimmed so there are no more tension-building intro and outtro sections to the more prominent songs (think 'Collapse' and 'After We Have Left Out Homes'). The entire album is like a collection of singles, and there are no purely instrumental tracks like Reset, either. With any other band I wouldn't care, but I was of the opinion that these medleys were an integral part of Mute Math's untidy, complex and organic style. Everything is far more self contained, and as a result less atmospheric. All of these tracks were prepped for single release before they even left the studio.

Now onto the instrumentation. Great, right? Wrong. Go stand in the fucking corner.
Well okay that's a bit harsh. Some of the new instruments they're using are really interesting and I especially approve of the extra piano that tickles away in the background of many of the tracks. However, in order to make room for all this new jazzy, ethnic sound much of that which is quintessentially Mute Math has been lost; no more Atari, no more pseudo-'80s synthesizer backing tracks and messily distorted sampling (with the exceptions of Backfire and Clipping). Every track is akin to a series of random instrumental solos played over each other. It's fair enough if they want to mix up the composition and instrumentation a little bit, but when you change the overall sound to the point where it doesn't sound like you anymore you've got a problem.
The hyped up and loudened drums on every track also reek of fan service to worshippers of Darren's insane drumming. Not that there's anything much wrong with that, since Darren King is probably one of the best drummers alive at the moment, but I think it cheapens the whole experience.
One thing I did love here was Paul's vocals, which have improved immeasurably since the first album. He seems to have stretched his range and become far more smooth than he was on previous tracks. I will also mention Greg and Roy here, because their talent has become far more apparent with this new style. The bass and guitar solos in some of the tracks are 'wicked sick' (pause for distant gunshot sound for using that phrase).

Finally, the last thing that's bugging me is the tone of the album. Everything is more dark and brooding, like a hormonal teenager going through a goth phase (irony realised, thank you). The first half of the tracks of the album sound aggressive and have some very cynical lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics, this is another thing I wanted to bring up. On the STDA the lyrics were some of the most interesting I've ever heard. Almost everything was ambiguous and spiritual, unnerving in some cases, and it added to the atmosphere of the thing. No track ever made a statement, but rather howled questions into an abyss. On Armistice we find stuff like Electrify with its generic 'she' that reminded me irresistibly of Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys. Another throw-away 'the girl' track like the four hundred billion million others out there. Obviously this isn't a universal truth; examples like the brilliant bonus track 'Architecture' (which can be found here incidentally, it took me weeks to find) keep the ambiguity alive, but all of their tracks used to be like this.

Now for all my bitching I will just say that I do love Armistice. It's just no longer the head-above-the-crowd indie rock that it used to be. And no, I'm not one of those 'indier-than-thou' pricks who won't listen to any band with more than nine fans, but so many groups are pulling the weird instrument angle (Coldplay's Viva La Vida springs to mind) that it just doesn't have the impact it would have had a few years ago. Instead of being quirky and unique it's become far more pedestrian.

So Armistice, then. Yes it's a worthy successor to the STDA, but no the new direction isn't to my liking. I'd like to think that the guys themselves are out there reading this from their homes in New Orleans cursing me and calling me a philistine for failing to appreciate the subtleties of their new musical direction, but the bottom line is that, to me at least, it just doesn't sound as enticing as their previous efforts, and some of the unexplainable Mute Math 'soul' (probably a fabrication of my pretentious mind) has been lost with the addition of the myriad of new instruments. For my money their best work so far is their old stuff (Reset EP and the STDA), but that said, I'm longing to hear what they can produce in the future. Let's hope there's a B-side release of Voice In The Silence, eh?
To summarise the album in a more focussed manor, I'll give a mini-review of each track.

The Nerve
After some of the later tracks, this sounds a little underpowered. The lyrics are very interesting, if rather moody and aggressive.
An atonal mess, pulled together by an excellent chorus and top class vocal work by Paul. Definitely a single, although certainly not their best work and I don't think it will have mass appeal because it's a bit marmite.
The kind of thing you listen to just before shooting yourself. The lyrics are desperate and the grungy intro synth sets a dark, gritty tone which is maintained throughout the whole song. The piano gives it an emotionally piercing edge and adds an almost rain-like quality. The vocal work towards the end (chiefly the 'hey's at about 3:35) is superb.
This has been out for quite a while and I'm sick of it now, but I liked it a lot when I first heard it. It's trying a bit too hard is my main complaint.
No Response
Builds up beautifully - probably the most atmospheric track on the album. You can hear the guitar echoing off into some distant street or alley. Paul's doubled up vocals don't really fit and make it sound slightly inconsistent but an aurally pleasing track overall.
Pins and Needles
A more relaxed tune, this. Until it gets to the point it seems a bit lost, but the lyrical content is interesting and its echoing, jazzy sound is rather memorable. At least until it gets to the string outtro. Urgh.
A much more mainstream track. There's nothing here that isn't straightforward and I'm not dead keen on the weird guitar hits that play periodically, but the vocals on this track stand out as some of the best on the album.
Wonderful drum track on this one. Everything here is quite simple and melodic - nothing atonal. The vocals here are excellent and the choice of instruments is refreshingly simple by comparison, and the ambient vocals here add a bit of soul into it.
Urgh. Well it's a nice tune, but the lyrics are fairly bog standard and the whole thing fades into a frenzy of melodical and lyrical mediocrity towards the end.
An almost Latin sounding jam which harks back to the 1970s with the jazzy brass and guitar work. Vocals and instrumental breaks here are superb and the minimal synthesizer and sampling work keeps it clean and gives the band a chance to show off their instrumentional talents a bit.
Lost Year
Mute Math do Coldplay. Personally, there's nothing I really like about this song.
This sounds more like three or four tracks melted messily into one, but it's a cool sort-of-end to the album. The section containing from 6:32 onwards is superb, mesmerising and uplifting, and the samplings of their earlier 'Earlylight' from the Spotlight EP are well used.
Architecture (US iTunes Bonus Track)
One of the best tracks 'on the album' for me. Possibly because it's closer to their previous work than any of the other tracks. An extremely infectious track that I love, even if it is a tad repetitive.
Clockwork (Japanese Version Bonus Track)
Where the hell is Voice In The Silence? This is good, but not as good as that. Clockwork also strikes me as being somewhat unfinished. The intro comes in far too suddenly and it ends too abruptly.
Valium (VIP Tour Bonus Track)
Valium has a thumping beat behind it, despite being a slow track. The vocal echoes are wonderful and it is generally an uplifting joy to listen to.
Armistice 2nd Line Version (VIP Tour Bonus Track)
A slightly stripped down version of the original with a slightly harder, more streetwise edge on it. I think I prefer the original.

Anyway, enough of that musical malarkey. Last week I attended the Ground Zero Airsoft Weekender for a second time. It's basically a camping trip where you get shot at when you wake up, and the number of wounds upon your person is directly proportionate to your success. The number of bleeding BB wounds on my neck is a testament to the fact that I did poorly, on the first day at least. By the end of the second day I had about ten kills under my belt and had managed to score one piece of intel for my team with a bit of quick sprinting and some balls.
Coming up is a 10000 word essay on my experiences, where each picture is worth 1000 words.
Right Click > View Image for slightly higher resolution, or alternatively, if I know you, email me and I'll mail you back the originals.

Image: GZW
Relaxin' all cool and all shootin' some b-ball outside of school.

Image: GZW
Our campsite, tents, my car, and a couple of oiks throwing a fucking volleyball at it.

Image: GZW
The sun setting over the campsite, and Tim about to get hit in the face with a volleyball. Look closely.

Image: GZW
Ieuan in the John. The rifle sat outside it is almost iconic. So are the portaloos, mind. Those things were fucking unbreathable after about a day.

Image: GZW
Jewbu and Ieuan (far left, far right respectively) chilling on a hill. Feel the excitement!

Image: GZW
Me taking a photo of Ieuan taking a photo of some noobs.

Image: GZW
The dead zone. No, not the film. Various members of various teams taking five after getting shot.

Image: GZW
John resting his tank barrel on the floor (in-joke).

Image: GZW
The beautiful and fertile land of Groundzerostad.

Image: GZW
Meanwhile, just to the left, Ieuan fails to smile for a picture while Jewbu and Carly don't even turn around.

After three days of sprinting, shooting and more sprinting I spent the next four on the sofa with a duvet over me watching TV, coughing up bits of lung into my cereal, but it was an immensely fun weekend out and the booze-up inbetween firefights was a great laugh.
A big 'hurro' to Jewbu, Tim, John, Ieuan and Carly who I went with. Hope you guys had as much fun as I did.

Coming 2052: another post!