By Allyson Bills
For their fourth album, New Orleans’ MUTEMATH finally had all the time in the world to record Vitals. It has been four years since the one-time Grammy-nominated quartet of singer-keyboardist Paul Meany, guitarist Todd Gummerman, bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenás and drummer Darren King released their follow-up to 2011’s Odd Soul. Vitals is the first release under MUTEMATH’s own Wojtek Records. The result of Vitals is a heavily electronic-based album with a looser song-writing method, a dramatic departure from their previous efforts which leaned toward the rock end of the spectrum.
I’m not sure whether or not MUTEMATH intended to create a concept album of love, loneliness, moving on, etc at its inception. But Vitals is just this; and it works in their favor for the most part. It’s evident in the first track, “Joyride,” which has a sound that’s very reminiscent of Capital Cities with the catchy drumbeats. This dancy tune is all about letting go and moving on with your life, and who wouldn’t want to boogie with lyrics such as “Let the tears fall out tonight?”
“Light Up,” according to the Wall Street Journal is a song about Meany’s wife and the ups and downs of their relationship: “Sometimes we just have to walk through the fire // Just to see what once more was never shine brighter”. The track begins with a chill, dub-step vibe, and quickly switches into an eighties-flavored dance party with shades of Michael Jackson at times. This track works because the song is compact (3:41 minutes is short dance track), and makes the point that is needed without over-extending the song. For this reason, “Light Up” is easily one of the highlights of Vitals.
Meany’s falsetto vocals are the focal point of “Monument,” a poppy, bass-heavy song demonstrates MUTEMATH’s musical versatilities. The chorus of “Our love” fits in perfectly with the drum and keyboard breakdowns in the song. Also, the lyrics in “Monument” show MUTEMATH’s effortless abilities to write a love song without coming across as corny: “There’s a memory around the corner // There’s an angel on our shoulders // To remind us while it’s far from over.” “Monument” is one of those anthem tracks that you will be singer for years on after.
“Stratosphere” is perhaps one of the largest departures musically (in terms of previous releases) off Vitals that channels M83 with their melodic electronic vibe. Lyrically, “Stratosphere” takes a dark turn on Vitals, compared to the “light-hearted” earlier tracks, “Sitting on top of the world is all I ever wanted // But now I see it wasn’t worth the casualty I suffered.” The flickering keyboards throughout the song are deceiving because it makes you forget the feelings of loneliness and the will to start over.
The melodic-heavy vibe continues into “All I Can See,” which highlight’s Meany’s keyboards in this distorted, ethereal track. The flowing vibe to this song fits perfectly with its meaning of realized dreams of finding the perfect love, and Meany’s drowned-out falsetto vocals of “Everything around is beautiful.” However, the only reservation that I have with “All I Can See” is that it ends abruptly and doesn’t fully develop to its full potential. I would have liked to have seen the song eventually fade out with the chorus because beautiful dreams are weightless, just like this song.
The title track, “Vitals,” is unusual in the sense that it’s a roughly five minute-long instrumental song with harmonies “oohs” in the background. In most cases title tracks make a unanimous statement as to what an album is about; however MUTEMATH chose to make this statement without saying a word. In a sense, I found this disappointing because “Vitals” sounds like a ”filler” track for this album as whole with its mid-tempo and exchanges between the keys and “oohs.” I felt like that MUTEMATH had an opportunity to capitalize on “Vitals,” and the entirety of this album, and didn’t do so.
“Composed” is the shortest song off Vitals, clocking in at 2:54 minutes complete with finger-snaps in the background of electronic reverb, which makes you think you are listening to Massive Attack. Again, MUTEMATH’s lyrics are earnest throughout “Composed;” you can definitely feel Meany’s will to stay strong with “I’m a prisoner to the fight I lost,” even in the darkest of times. Musically, MUTEMATH manages to create an electronic track, that is “Composed,” that develops to its potential without being redundant.
Easily the best song off Vitals and one of the best that MUTEMATH has ever written is “Used To.” I found this song to be the epitome of the sound that MUTEMATH was yearning to create on this album. According to Billboard, “Used To” is based on Meany moving out of his last house in New Orleans, and leaving something behind that you are necessarily ready to part with. While listening to this song, I found that “Used To” has a widely universal meaning of relationships in general (interpersonal and/or inanimate) and how we have preconceived notions of their outcome with the poignant lyrics of “Thinking about how I should know it’s going to go because nothing is made to last forever.” “Used To” has a sound that is distinctly MUTEMATH with the electronic rock touch that’s evident on their earlier efforts, but they took it up a notch with this song and emphasized heavy drums and synthesizers, especially in the verses. “Used To” is destined to become a MUTEMATH classic in years to come.
MUTEMATH subconsciously recreates Foster The People’s “Houdini” on “Best of Intentions,” but with a quicker tempo. Both songs are eerily similar. I would say that “Best of Intentions” is the oddball track off Vitals, due to its fast verse-chorus-verse, while the other songs take their time to culminate. In “Bulletproof,” the last of the two instrumental tracks, MUTEMATH goes back to their roots from on their 2006 self-titled debut album with pulsating drums and bass set to flickering keyboards. Finally, there is an instrumental track that meshes with the album as a whole.
“Safe If We Don’t Look Down” is a smooth but subtle eighties-flavored dance track. I found this song to be one of the weak links off Vitals because the lyrics of the song’s namesake are over-used throughout the track; at times I was trying to figure out MUTEMATH’s intentions for this song. The final track, “Remain,” is the longest track off the album, clocking at 5:52. It is also the most powerful, musically and lyrically. This song is beautiful, and has the ingredients of how to end an album. “Remain” begins with a long interlude of keyboards, and builds up around the three-minute mark with lyrics of “Just keep trying // Just keep fighting // Just keep going // Just keep surviving // Just keep walking // Just keep breathing // Just keep holding // Just keep believing,” which is the crux of the song. Throughout the ups and downs of this album, “Remains” is a song of hope in that we can overcome and obstacle.
I wouldn’t say that Vitals is MUTEMATH’s strongest effort to date; the album shines at times and other times it falls flat. The songs are similar in lyrical make-up, but musically it seems like MUTEMATH is still trying to find their identity as a band with a more electronic-based sound. In retrospect, there are some solid gems worth checking out on Vitals that are destined to become MUTEMATH staples.