I could go on about the ways this band has evolved their lineup, but you’ve already probably ruminated on that a lot, so I’ll spare you. Yet, I must tell you that Play Dead sounds like the peak of what we could expect the MUTEMATH we know, post-self titled. And how appropriate, given this album marking the end of an era!
A friend of mine (who will remain nameless), once remarked to me that MUTEMATH’s evolution in sound seemed suspiciously in sync with current music trends. Odd Soul following The Black Keys’ Brothers. Vitals following Tame Impala’s Currents. I submit that Play Dead is its own entity. Folks like my friend ought to consider the album a standalone project. I consider it to be a sonic marriage of both Odd Soul and the self titled, and could be considered a first proper sequel to the latter.
After a couple of listens through, I haven’t heard a song that gives me the chills the way select songs on other albums do, but I suspect that will change with time. “Stratosphere” didn’t do anything for me the first time I heard it, but now it’s one of my favorite songs the band has released, well, ever. People are freaking about the song “Break the Fever” with good reason. It has what might be arguably the strongest hook on the record. “War” is a certified banger that feels like a fleshed out Odd Soul cousin. It’s a sort of paint by numbers Mutemath track, with each flourish extra prominent. It’s what I expect, but more “oomph.” The chorus is huge, the rhythm section is tight, and the song transitions into a sort of breakdown near the end that simply really hits the spot. These are both solid candidates for a future chill-inducing track.
As with each record, MUTEMATH finds ways to really shine in their more mellow moments. “Placed On Hold” and “Nuisance” are two parts of the record that fit right in with “Stall Out,” “Remain,” “No Response.” Late night drive MUTEMATH playlists should be a thing. Perhaps we’ll make one. Paul Meany’s voice offers a semblance of reassurance in these moments even if you aren’t really paying attention to what he’s saying.
Another thing I’d like to address is how the band took a different approach to their music than I thought they would this time around, especially in a post-twenty one pilots tour era. When I was at a Graceful Closure show recently, the song “Used To” came on as house music during a set changeover and a bevy of high school age-ish girls started singing along at the top of their lungs. In light of their newfound fame with a new generation of pop music lovers, I figured Play Dead would be an album of accessible upbeat could-be hits. Instead, they went back in time to their earlier sound and crafted a record for the die hard fans. On the songs that have a more traditional structure, they aren’t content to stay there. Little nuggets of sonic exploration are peppered throughout the record. Points for a natural conclusion or transition in a song yield to jam sessions, some more subtle than others. Most memorable is probably the “bouncing ping pong ball” outro of “Stroll On,” which led one MUTEMATH fan to suggest throwing ping pong balls onstage during that song at their shows. A nice a idea, but perhaps not.
I have a lot more I’ll probably want to say about this album going forward, but I’ll leave it here for now. I’m hoping the new fans that joined because of Twenty One Pilots are able to have their horizons broadened by their record. Everyone else – just buy it dang it.