Mute Math: Armistice

Enjoying Mute Math involves disavowing the bad, and disliking them likewise involves disavowing the good.

Mute Math


Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2009-08-18
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon link
Artist website

As far as I can tell, there are three ways to approach Mute Math. The first approach is to get lost in the New Orleans modern-rock band's dense compositional textures and innovative, multifaceted production; this approach involves being flat-out impressed with what they're doing, generally speaking. The second approach is to brush aside all of this furious detail as being so much overproduced gloss, and point a critical finger or two at lead singer Paul Meany's humdrum melodies, platitudinal lyrics, and radio-friendly warbling. The third and most simple approach is to affix to them the dreaded dismissive label of "Christian rock" and walk away.

I think we can feel justified in safely tossing out the third option. Mute Math sued Warner Music Group to prevent the label from releasing the band's eponymous debut album on its Christian music imprint, after all. It's pretty clear that, whatever their faith-based leanings, Meany and his bandmates don't want to be considered a Christian band; the total dearth of openly religious lyrical content is another clue, of course. What we're left with, then, is an endless thumb-war between the other two approaches. Most listeners will therefore emerge from Mute Math's sophomore effort, Armistice, with bruised cuticles and perhaps with less conviction about the band than they came in with, one way or another.

Proponents of the first approach (in whose company I tentatively place myself) will find plenty of justification for their views. The spectrum of colors in Mute Math's sonic palette spills into the kaleidoscopic. Rooted time and again in drummer Darren King's electronically-assisted breakbeats, these songs are dizzying tapestries of appealing noise. Processed riffs spiral ascendantly around unforgiving rhythms and vocal melismas in the midst of lead single "Spotlight". The toms and handclaps that collaborate in building a beat for "Odds" are striking. "Pins and Needles" gamely approximates a Thom Yorke solo b-side with haunting piano whispers and skittering machine beats. The album's title track surfs on wildly inspired goodtime horns before breaking down with unsettling sci-fi strings. "Clipping" is an absolutely stunning piece of production (and not such a bad song, either). At its best, Armistice reproduces the frantic invention on display during a Mute Math live show, an experience that is both rousing and bewildering.

Still, acolytes of the second approach I mentioned above will hardly be silenced. Meany's lyrics almost never dig their claws into you, and his Sting-like crooning seeks to flatten his band's spiky gridscape of sounds. Mute Math has all the tools to grab post-rock by the throat, but Meany is always there with his shiny anthemics to pull these sonic Rube Goldberg devices back to a more structured and accessible locus. Devotees obviously appreciate the inherent tension this creates, and Mute Math's work is nothing if not tensile (indeed, sometimes almost unbearably so).

Still, there are instances that see Meany's pied piper impulses leading his flock astray: "The Nerve" gets its kicks from empty lyrical nihilism, "Lost Year" is a dullish piano ballad, and the dance-rock of "Electrify" sports a goofy melody and Meany's unconvincing mania for a girl. And on the rare occasions upon which Mute Math allows you to poke your head out from their ocean of noise for a quick breather, you may just take the moment to recognize the similarity between the guitar tones and to realize that you're getting heartily sick of all of those damned hi-hats.

Ultimately, Mute Math forces you to pick your side. I've chosen mine, and am diverted enough by the embarrassment of aural riches that Armistice has on display to offer up a solid recommendation. But even a supporter has to admit recognition of the hitches in the band's mostly-confident gait, and can hardly begrudge the perspective of those for whom these foibles are overwhelming. Enjoying Mute Math involves disavowing the bad, and disliking them likewise involves disavowing the good. That this choice is offered at all keeps the band firmly in the camp of the interesting, at least.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.