A clumsy culmination of the band's work to date, never quite fully capturing the listener's attention
Reader Rating7 Votes
Mutemath are a band that have always fit very snugly into the alternative-rock bracket, augmenting their music with quirky electronic effects and peppering in the odd retro synth for good measure. ‘Play Dead’ carries on down the same path, but does so with a sense of difficulty. Opening track ‘Hit Parade’ starts with Paul Meany’s signature throaty vocals and a punchy staccato synth backing, building up to a delightfully crunchy bassline… however, this minimalist style is soon drowned out with a heavy layering of sounds and effects that add very little to the track.
There are moments of well-crafted atmosphere, and the technical ability of the band (or at least their production value) is definitely audible in this record, but this can’t save the album from sounding as busy and urgent as it does.
‘Break the Fever’ is quite enjoyable, with a heavy electronic-pop vibe and a hint of disco throwback to the main verses, and although well used in some places, the band relies too heavily on this experimental juxtaposition of the electronic sounds, and in ‘Nuisance’ the repetitive synths live up to the song’s name, lacking in depth and variation, becoming plain annoying.
There’s some nice guitar work in ‘Placed on Hold’ – probably the song which is most faithful to the band’s older work. This track has an expansive presence, creating a stadium-like atmosphere and filling it with high-pitched guitar soloing and more of Meany’s signature vocal style. Finally some subtlety and finesse can be found in ‘Everything’s New’ – a more considered track that doesn’t sound like an instrumental fight-to-be-heard. Whilst better than the rest of the record, these songs still don’t stand out as exciting or fresh. A disappointing lack of stand-out tracks leave space for criticism, and the song ‘War’ certainly deserves its fair share – this is a heavy-handed and slow-paced track, and none of the instruments get the pay-off they deserve, once again fighting to be heard. Despite starting off with a strangely Nine-Inch-Nails-esque vibe, ‘Achilles Heel’ plays out into another unremarkable track. Its long outro does deliver the quieter and more reflective portion of the album, but does so in a somewhat unconvincing and half-hearted fashion – and frankly too late into the album.
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It feels as though there is very little repeat-listen value to ‘Play Dead’– not a single song fully grabbing your attention on the first listen, or second for that matter. It may not be a valid complaint that this album isn’t “catchy”, since alt-rock generally doesn’t shoot for that goal, but Mutemath aren’t really doing anything new here, and it seems they are trying very hard to make an acoustically interesting record, instead creating a clumsy layering of traditional rock and electronic augmentation that really misses the mark.