Seattle’s Math and Physics Club release their self-titled debut LP on Matinee Recordings, home to many indie-pop groups, including the Lucksmiths and Harper Lee. This debut LP is the group’s third release after two EPs in 2005, Weekends Away and Movie Ending Romance.
Math and Physics Club is one of those albums that is very easy to like. It is nice, mellow, sweet pop, the kind that we like because it is more 1965 or 1988 than 2006. It is the kind of music that requires very little energy from the listener; the drums consistently find the upbeats, arpeggios seem to bloom naturally from the guitars, and the rhythm section almost instinctively sets up a pleasant shuffle. Nothing surprises us. The lyrics evoke memories of lost loves and earnest evenings by the fire, and simple violin lines and “ba ba bas” make it perfect background music. But that’s just it: as easy as this album is to like, it is equally easy to forget. Make no mistake that this album is good . . . but none of it is particularly great, either.
That said, there are certainly tracks worth mention. “April Showers” is free flowing, intricately executed, and honestly, quite lovely. The lines “We’ll stay in instead / Lying in our bed / We won’t have to get up till never” accurately sum up the album in its simple notions of love and life. “Look at Us Now”‘s bossa nova beat is a nice change. “Such a Simple Plan” proves to be the best on the album with tender lyrics like “Such a simple plan / Turning nothing in her hands / She said my heart may need a reduction / Or maybe love should come with instructions”. The momentous guitar-work is enhanced by subtleties and slight rhythmic displacements in the vocals similar to the more interesting and nuanced work of the Smiths.
The group is obviously influenced by the jangling pop of the Smiths and others, but the similarities are almost too plainly apparent. The vocals on “You’ll Miss Me” and “Such a Simple Plan” are at times strikingly Morrissey-esque. Everything from the instrumentation to the song forms to the bittersweet lyrics echoes very closely Belle and Sebastian and similar artists. Once you get past the intros, the songs all float by through rolling choruses of genuinely sweet simplicity. Everything is enjoyable, but the problem lies in the fact that nothing is more or less than that. While the songs are by no means apathetic, they lack a certain tension, or energy, or purpose—some intangible thing that can’t be explained, but merelyfelt in truly exceptional music. It is almost impossible not to compare the sound of the this album to Belle and Sebastian, and next to B&S’s work—full of variation, momentum, and unexpected musical choices—Math and Physics Club seems too placid, too static. Ultimately the problem is that the album leaves the listener satisfied, but no different than they were before. In this digital age where good music is ubiquitous, it is difficult not to require that music be truly great: something wildly innovative, powerfully raw, or tragically beautiful. Nothing here is.
If Math and Physics Club’s goal is to create solid, heartfelt pop, then they achieve it with ease. The group is full of great musicians, and it will be interesting to see what sounds they conjure up in the future. For those seeking something that will change their life, Math and Physics Club is not going to suffice. The album offers up nothing that Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister or The Life Pursuit has not yet delivered. But for those simply searching for an album of genuine notions and enchanting melodies, this one just might be the perfect fit.