If you've been out of the loop in the music world this year, you probably missed the great Mute Math versus Word Records debacle that occured at the start of 2006. While the band's debut EP Reset released on Warner Bros.'s Christian imprint Word Records in 2004, only to be followed by some tour dates around the Christian indie circuit, this was apparently against the foursome's wishes. Mute Math proceeded to sue Word, things got a bit sticky publicly, and a full-length album was released independently. Months passed, the band tore up cities across the country with their intense live show, and Warner made peace with the ambient rockers. Mute Math's self-titled debut was greenlighted for a major label release and was put on the fast track for a September street date. The thirteen track indie record has been trimmed to eleven tracks, remastered, repackaged with three selections from the Reset EP, and coupled with a limited edition live EP.
For the fans that got their hands on the independent version of Mute Math, the rerelease's only bonus is the live EP, which, depending how diehard of a fan you are, may or may not be worth shelling out the money for another copy of the record. Also, it's important to note that the song "Without It" and the instrumental interlude following it have been dropped from the album. "Without It" was one of the previous version's highlights, a sort of anthem for looking forward to life after this world fades. "Polite" was a modest drum-driven track that, although it does appear relatively expendable, served as a fine interlude between "Without It" and "Stare at the Sun." In its stead, "Plan B" from Reset is substituted, fitting quite perfectly into the album's format. The atmospheric "You Are Mine" now precedes the standout track from their debut EP, "Control," which is an appreciated add, but feels strange being wedged into the later half of the album's track order.
The sentimental ballad "Picture" precedes the former closer "Stall Out," which brought the earlier release to an appropriate finish, but now the impressive instrumental title track from the EP caps off the re-release. While "Stall Out" has the look and feel of an album's finale, "Reset" balances the instrumental opener with this more techno-influenced highlight. All in all, the band has actually improved upon their full-length debut, and the inclusion of the live EP makes it a must-have release for the year. The only feeling I've yet to shake when listening to Mute Math, however, is the album bears such a self-awareness of the magic these guys have together as musicians. While the Reset EP wore this charm of great things coming from a band that may not quite have known yet just what they have on their hands, this full-length project has its moments where they may be too overconfident in their craft. The end result actually holds back a few tracks from greatness. Also, the inclusion of some of the best songs from Reset doesn't render the debut EP obsolete. Two of the most memorable tracks, "Progress" and "OK" are absent from this release. The EP is worth picking up for those tracks alone. Finally, the cardboard foldout design for the album artwork is about as pointless as the independent release's design. Lyrics and liner notes are once again missing, making the packaging feel a bit impersonal.
The bonus live disc, entitled Live At The El Rey, is a treat for fans as it's only available with the first 25,000 copies of the record and includes six cuts from the full-length that were recorded at a 2006 show in Los Angeles. The sound is well-mixed, giving more of a from-the-audience vibe than some of the more high end live recording productions. These renditions are pretty true to their original formats, so the tracks don't particularly add much to the studio versions, but it's undoubtedly an added bonus.
When all is said and done, the mainstream release of Mute Math is a tight compilation of alternative, ambient pop/rock that makes up one of the most worthwhile records of 2006. Love 'em or hate 'em after the label dramas, Mute Math is not just a band to keep a watchful eye on, but one that may be helping to shape the future of music - and that's something.-- Review date: 10/26/06, written by John DiBiase
Disc One - Mute Math
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