Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Having now heard their third album, “Odd Soul,” it’s pretty easy to understand what King meant when he said, “A lot of the songs we have on this new record are fun to play, and will be fun to play for a long time, no matter what.”
The LP’s first four tracks were the songs he was referring to, as they’re powered by these terrific, aggressive drum fills. I recently compared WU LYF’s Joseph Louis Harlan Manning to the The Who’s infamous Keith Moon for his work on their debut, “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain,” and while Manning certainly channeled the dead percussionist’s off-kilter timing and fun-loving tendencies, King claims a truer comparison by pure volume (and if you want me to specify whether I mean sonic or quantity occupied– the answer is yes.). His laser-quick pounding is unrelenting from the album’s first, eponymous track, straight through to the last song I enjoyed, “Tell Your Heart Heads Up.” These four will fuel their top-notch live game, and wear out scores of toms for years to come.
Listening to these four songs, I can’t help but imagine that they resemble Stillwater’s Colourmusic, if they stripped out their reverb and decided to write lyrics that were both more personal and easily accessible (read: less interesting).
The problem is that Mutemath still isn’t really digging into the dark stuff. “Blood Pressure”’s chorus is about as close as they get to really achieving that sense of weird intimacy the title conveys. “Why can’t you be more like your older brother / Why can’t you do a little more for Jesus?” I understand the dudes are Christian, but the conflict of living up to (their parents’?) expectations of their faith can be much more compelling than it is here.
I guess what I’m really liking in these songs are the aggressive, rhythmic cadences that remind me of Colourmusic, whose performances often turn into pissing contests to see who can get the crowd shaking harder (this is a great, not just a good, thing).
The pacing of the record really slows down on songs five and seven (“All for Nothing” and “Allies,” respectively) which are dull filler. The band does fiddle about with synthesizers (and even an old-timey, gospel-sounding organ on “One More”), but they don’t sound really natural in there, like maybe they were tossed on as an afterthought, or maybe — even worse — like they thought, “Hey, let’s just leave a section of a song open for a key solo. Quick, write lyrics.”
“Quarantine” is probably the most experimental, adventurous track here, but it’s so long and stuffed down so far at the end that it’s far from strong enough to recover the listener’s interest.
One general highlight of “Odd Soul” is the addition of Todd Gummerman, whose psych-future blues touch deserves praise. It’s a welcome replacement of the extra-spacey work of Greg Hill, who left the group about a year ago. His playing never seemed particularly warm or engaging to me. Exciting, sure. But not truly virtuosic, the way Gummerman’s does. He’s definitely an improvement.
Put it short, I’ll stick with Colourmusic. Because I like my odd music odder.