Mutemath: Play Dead
Is it because frontman Paul Meany sings with an earnestness rare in modern rock? Or that their lyrics occasionally grapple with spiritual themes? Or because their former label, to their detriment and extreme irritation, once marketed them as a “Christian” band? For whatever reason, Mutemath remain one of alternative music’s most unfairly marginalized bands. After the synth-pop flirtations of their fourth LP, 2015’s Vitals, the New Orleans quartet revisit their experimental side with Play Dead, which cross-pollinates the electronic pulses of its predecessor with the prog-soul mutations of 2011’s Odd Soul. Opener “Hit Parade,” a bold choice for the lead single, moves away from a verse-chorus structure, piling psychedelic synth atmospheres and tumbling funk riffs into a five-minute decathlon that summarizes their entire catalog. Mutemath seem to enjoy the thrill of sonic shock, as the album zig-zags between styles moment-by-moment: “Stroll On” nods to ‘90s electronica with its gargled, distorted synth-bass; “Break the Fever” legitimately echoes Michael Jackson in its staccato vocal phrasing and gooey, glossy beat; and the cosmic keys on “Nuisance” nod to ‘70s Tangerine Dream. The glue, as usual, is drummer Darren King, one of the most versatile and overlooked beat fiends on the planet. Play Dead is worth the price of admission just to hear his work on “Achilles Heel”—as the band morphs from a swaggering electro-rap groove to a groggy firestorm, you’ll wonder if King sprouted two extra limbs mid-song.