MUTEMATH and the fascinating Odd Soul

Oh yes! This is me blogging about MUTEMATH again. They released their third album a few weeks ago which is called Odd Soul. This album cemented them as my favorite band. I always hesitated to have such a thing as a favorite band because I don’t like to compare songs and bands and put them on a scale or hierarchy. Oh, and I hate them just a little bit for choosing a name that is written in all caps, but they say they like how square it looks… It also looks like I am screaming their name all over this post!

First, a few words about the music in Odd Soul. MUTEMATH is a new band. Now that Greg Hill (the former guitarist) is no longer part of the band, it only makes sense that Odd Soul contains the largest amount of heavy hitting guitar riffs MUTEMATH has ever produced. (I can see you reading that sentence a second time.) Actually, the bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas was holding all of that guitar-greatness inside him. When Greg left, he took on the responsibility of writing and playing the guitars, and he went nuts (his hair also went nuts). By the way, they have found Todd Gummerman, who is now bringing these guitar riffs to life during shows, so that Roy don’t have to grow a second pair of arms.

Odd Soul sounds like a clash between today’s alternative and the 70’s. A lot of songs are actual progressive rock, with transitions and prolonged instrumental awesomeness. The guys bought a number of old-timey instruments for this record, and the sound of these instruments taken with modern recording equipment is phenomenal. I sometimes hear people say that no great music has been done since the 70’s-80’s. I would say loudly to these people: MUTEMATH! (Then, they would probably run away from me, screaming as well.)

Some of you might remember my earlier post on MUTEMATH, where I was discussing the meaning of the lyrics in Armistice, their second album. I thought I had some evidence that the guys were departing from Christianity. The new album, Odd Soul, turns out to be all about the relationship of Paul, Darren and Roy to Christianity. Even the album artwork is full of symbolic hints to that. It isn’t going in the direction I thought it was when I was interpreting Armistice, but I was close.

Here is a revealing interview with Darren King where he explains where he is regarding religion. It really sets the album in context.

Essentially, Paul, Darren and Roy came to realize how unconventional human beings they are. They grew up in an extremely religious environment, which instilled beliefs and values into the very core of their beings. They have come to recognize that it is far from all good, but it defines such a large part of them that they can’t let it all go. In the words of Darren:

“It’s certainly a cop out to let somebody do all of your thinking and believing for you, but I’ve decided at this point in my life that it’s also a cop out to just pretend like it’s all stupid. You know, when you’re a little kid and you lose a game so you just kick the game over and say, “This is stupid”? I can’t do that either.”

So the album is the product of all the frustrations and good things alike coming up from the Christian upbringing of the members of MUTEMATH. Darren recounts that if it hasn’t been from the “speaking in tongues” church that let him bang on drums recklessly while the church attendants where “letting the Jesus out”, he most probably wouldn’t be the incredible drummer he is today.

He also tells the story of the song Blood Pressure. When he was young, he felt the pressure to be a perfect person, even better than Jesus. That drive for perfection drove him to always improve and surpass everything he did, but also to feel like hell for every moment of weakness. This sense of perfectionism is very prominent in MUTEMATH’s style.

Still, there is something wild and uncontrollable about their music and live performances. They look like they have spent years trapped in a box and they are now enjoying the absence of boundaries. You can see this in the shear originality of their music videos, the reckless “running all over the stage” of their live performances, and their very, very creative music. They have attained an equilibrium between complexity and simplicity, spontaneity and discipline, and fun and reflexion that I have never seen in a band.

When I reflect upon the story that is told in Odd Soul, it looks to me like religion only fills the hole it creates. This is what we see when religious people say that morality is inherent to religion, or that their lives are meaningless if there is no God or that there has to be something after death. This is probably why leaving religion can be either a very smooth or a very distressing experience. It depends on whether you have found something to fill the hole or not before you became disillusioned with the whole thing. I think this is where these guys are right now. They are disillusioned to a degree, but they won’t let it all go until they find meaning and comfort elsewhere. When you grow up in an overwhelmingly religious environment like they did, it must feel like amputation to let it all go.

On a final note, MUTEMATH is the most fascinating band you’ll discover in a long time. There is a lot of depth to their music, to their performances and to them personally. Give Odd Soul a listen. Or two. Or a hundred. (I’m already beyond 40.)

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One Response to MUTEMATH and the fascinating Odd Soul

  1. This was an interesting read. I love MuteMath’s music and, as an Orthodox Christian myself, was always intrigued by their lyrics.

    However, I have to disagree with this part of your post:

    “When I reflect upon the story that is told in Odd Soul, it looks to me like religion only fills the hole it creates. This is what we see when religious people say that morality is inherent to religion, or that their lives are meaningless if there is no God or that there has to be something after death.”

    People who say you need to believe in God in order to be moral are simply misguided. It’s just not true from a Christian standpoint. Well-read and educated Christians, an admittedly shrinking pool of people, understand that there is such a thing as morality, and that it is ingrained within our souls from birth. If you’re more interested in the philosophy, check out CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. He converted from atheism to true Christianity primarily because he couldn’t figure out a way, apart from God, as to why human beings are instilled with a universal “Moral Law” that crosses cultures, religions, geographies, and time.

    And it seems clear from the lyrics and the interview you linked that the band grew up in a high-pressure, high-stress environment where “morality” was strictly enforced. Unfortunately this appears to be the environment in the so-called “bible-belt”, which has less to do with true Christianity than with a culture of outward perfectionism and inward misery. Jesus was perfect, but he never pressured others into being perfect; instead, he inspired them to be perfect through his actions. That difference appears to be lost on the church where the band members grew up, sadly.

    So I would agree that the band members are becoming disillusioned, and I really can’t blame them for that. But I think the reason why they’re not kicking the game and saying “it’s stupid” is because they have experienced God in the past –and maybe they are beginning to realize the way they were brought up had more to do with culture and less to do with God. It’s pretty clear from his own words that this is how he really feels:

    “I feel like I’ve had too many important experiences and too many good things happen that certainly feel like more than just coincidence–it shouldn’t all come my way to write it all off as coincidence or happenstance. So, there’s still a lot of toiling going on. I’m frustrated with church because I loved church growing up, and now I’m maybe a little too cool for it, or I get frustrated with the music or the pop culture of it.”

    This sounds to me like someone who thirsts for the truth of God but is tired of the church he grew up in, a church that itself appears misguided. I pray that he, and whoever is searching for truth, will find it in no time, at all.

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