Album Review: “Play Dead” by Mutemath

by Callahan Jones


Since the release of their self-titled album in 2006, Mutemath has rarely looked back at their own music history. Every project they’ve put out has been pushing in a new direction, constantly evolving from the alt-rock sound that they started out with.

After the departure of long-time guitarist Greg Hill coinciding with the release of their album “Odd Soul” in 2011, the changes became more apparent. The band’s music became led by aggressive synths and pads instead of the electric guitar. These heavy electronic influences were prevalent on the band’s 2015 release, “ Vitals” and their 2016 release, “Changes.” They seemed even more prevalent in their most recent release, the “TOPxMM” EP, a collaboration between Mutemath and the massively popular duo, Twenty One Pilots.

Their newest release, “Play Dead,” seems like a culmination of all the music they have made before. Tracks swap masterfully between being led by the deep, droning synths and flighty pads heard on their more recent music, and the meaty guitar riffs present on projects such as “ Odd Soul.”

This is best demonstrated on the second to last track on the album, “Achilles Heel,” which starts out driven by a heavy bassline and synths. After the first chorus, it transforms into a song straight out of 2009. The singing of Paul Meany becomes more frantic. The energetic and intricate drumming of Darren King is kicked up a notch as an electric guitar and bass pick up the work of the synths. The song goes out with King soloing over the return of the original bassline of the track.

A stand out pair of tracks is found in “Nuisance” and “Placed on Hold.” In “Nuisance,” the listener is treated to the full electronic Mutemath experience, with fleeting keyboard work supported by simple drumming. The song transitions into “Placed on Hold,” a song that was originally shelved during the recording of “Odd Soul” and was picked back up and reworked for this album. The song’s roots show in the guitar riff that could come straight out of a popular punk song, and in Meany’s natural voice, a treat that is rarely heard.

While no other tracks are as obviously inspired by the past, almost every other song on the album sounds distinctly like Mutemath, from the relatively stripped down “Stroll On” to the highly energetic “War,” to the slow and wistful “Marching to the End.”

Sadly, one track, “Breaking the Fever,” stands out like a sore thumb. While not a bad song in itself, the heavy pop and disco influences make it a distinct departure from the rest of the project. In addition, the song is placed right in the middle of the tracklist, making the difference even more apparent and confusing. While this may be a signal of where Mutemath would like to go in the future, it is still an odd departure from the cohesiveness of the album.

Overall, “Play Dead” seems like a love letter from Mutemath to the dedicated fan base they’ve accumulated over the last 11 years.  It masterfully combines all of the band’s different sounds and influences they’ve utilized over 5 LPs and 2 EPs into one, mostly cohesive project.

For the fan who just recently heard of Mutemath from the “TOPxMM” EP, or for the fan who has been with the band since the breakout of the single “Typical” in early 2006, “Play Dead” is a near perfect celebration of all that it means and has meant to be Mutemath.

Callahan Jones is a junior journalism major and the Digital and Design editor for Cedars. In his free time, he enjoys making coffee, collecting headphones and playing games with friends.

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