MMOddSoulHey – fear not: Odd Soul is pure MuteMath music. New flavors, yes – but the gumbo's still a mighty tasty mix of electronica, jazz, pop and soul.... but spiced up with more rock and a good dash of funk.

Odd Soul
Artist: MuteMath
Label: Teleprompt / Warner Brothers
Length: Tracks 50:19

"I'm an odd soul / Yes an odd soul – walking side roads, Cause that's the only way I know." So goes the chorus of "Odd Soul," the title track from MuteMath's third major studio release. That's also a fairly concise summing-up of this independent minded band's career: a 'hip' indie band that refuses to cave in to the hipster manifesto, a pop band that's really too jazzy, artistic and experimental to be pop stars, a totally modern band that uses funk, soul, and melody as much as sampling and electronics, and yes – a band that has regularly addressed issues of the soul, yet successfully sued a major label for wanting to relegate them to the musical ghetto of Contemporary Christian Music.

Walking side roads.....

Odd Soul finds MuteMath once again seeming to take a bit of a detour. Not content to turn success into a formula or to give their rabid fans what they expect on this outing, the band (minus guitar player Greg Hill, who reportedly left as a result of the stressful process of creating Armistice) has added heavier rock/blues riffs and a more organic, soulful, funk-infused approach to their sound. At first listen the individual songs give the impression that MuteMath has gone down a different road entirely, but listening to the whole album as a piece reveals that it's just another of those side roads for these odd souls – not so much like taking a detour as putting on a new set of tires and tuning up your engine. ...and Odd Soul is one exciting ride...

Replacing the textural, atmospheric guitar parts of MuteMath's previous work, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas steps up to the plate, contributing strong, confident, fuzz-toned riffs and Hendrix-era wah-wah to tracks like the single, "Blood Pressure," "Tell Your Heart Heads Up," "Allies," and "Walking Paranoia," which starts off with a prog-like run before getting into some heavy-duty funk. Doubling up on bass and guitar, Mitchell-Cardenas pulls out all the stops, delivering his usual earthy bass work as well as blistering guitar lines.

Darren King once again proves to be one of the most unique drummers around, playing in what a casual listener might call 'a frenzy,' but for his almost frightening control of the kit. Certainly, "Quarantine," this album's 'epic' track, will have percussion fans pressing the repeat button, but King is equally effective on every song, thundering away in steady 4/4 on one track, getting in and out of waltz time on another, and doing things that are simply unexplainable across the whole landscape of Odd Soul.

Paul Meany is, of course, the voice of MuteMath, as well as the band's keyboardist and front-man in concert. Paul is a master of vocal phrasing and has been fine-tuning his delivery (onstage and in the studio) to a classic soul style. Whether using a rock voice, a soul voice, or an ethereal falsetto, Meany uses his amazing vocal instrument in more varied and impressive ways than ever before. The earthy, visceral quality of the songs on Odd Soul give Meany a great opportunity to combine his excellent soul style with rock and a bit of jazz to the point where (especially live – where body language speaks loudly) names like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder come to mind.

The addition of a Hammond organ also gives Paul an outlet for some fat, funky sounds to lay under the songs, not to mention the completion of the classic black church musical arrangement of Hammond, guitar, bass and drums.

For pure chops, listen to songs like the thunderous, riff-driven "Allies," with its daring modulation in the middle of the verse – a trick few bands could pull off. The drums propel the song, the bass is low-down and nasty, the guitar rocks, and Meany's vocals are as energy-driven as any you'll hear anywhere. This is followed by "Cavalries," which has furious tempo changes, mighty Hammond organ passages, drums changing course on a dime, vocal harmony and stinging guitar lines. Strong stuff, indeed.

For those looking for the instrumental track, there's "Sun Ray," which lasts just under two minutes, while "All or Nothing" and "In No Time" show MuteMath in a mellower mode (say that three times fast) somewhat reminiscent of parts of "Burden," which closed the Armistice album.

Of course there are songs about love, life, endurance and other things (is Prytania a theater or a woman named after a theater?), but the lyrics on Odd Soul are more autobiographical than ever, for the large part dealing with Darren King and Paul Meany's upbringing in 'eccentric' charismatic church environments. While some references in songs like "Blood Pressure" will resonate easier with those who have shared that experience, the commentary on performance-oriented Christianity will be clear to most: "Why can't you be more like your older brother / why can't you ...Why can't you do a little more for Jesus / why can't you ...blood pressure." The song goes on, "Why don't you do what you're told / don't worry – I will help you out on one condition / Be more, do more, check your – blood pressure." Sounds like the kind of satirical take that St. Paul might've dug while writing the book of Galations. "Walking Paranoia" is about behavioral control through fear, and of course the title track is all about not coloring inside all of the spiritual lines. Pretty sure a lot of us can relate to that.....

Hey – fear not: Odd Soul is pure MuteMath music. New flavors, yes – but the gumbo's still a mighty tasty mix of electronica, jazz, pop and soul.... but spiced up with more rock and a good dash of funk.

Way back when Paul, Roy and Darren were in the eclectic 'Christian band, Earthsuit, they sang about a 'yellow soul' in a song called "White Horse." MuteMath mentions a 'lavender soul' in "The Nerve." Now MuteMath reinvents soul music with Odd Soul.

How cool is that?


Bert Saraco