MUTEMATH - Used To
I used to walk on air,
I used to care,
I had no fear of falling,
I used to never feel like I do now
Simple, soulful, punchy. Used To is one of 3 singles off the latest MUTEMATH record Vitals, and it's such a jam! This is the band's 4th studio release, and they took a completely different approach to making this record. In an interview with Chorus.fm frontman Paul Meany had this to say about the process:
The challenge for this record was how few notes could we get away with? We would overplay all the time, recording this record, but then it was a process of trying to now skim it back. What are the essential parts of the song? We were trying to see how loud we could let simplicity happen for each song idea.
In Used To, that concept is so prevalent. It's about great sounds with catchy yet simple melodies and captivating lyrics, all with that trademark MUTEMATH vibe that implores you to move your body. When you get into the song, the parts are all really simple. Right off the bat you have that thick gritty bass synth playing a really simple rhythm with another lush sawtooth LFO synth dancing over it. The drums through the verses are just kick and snare on 1 and 3.
In the pre-chorus you hear the result of what I'm sure was a really lengthy revision process as Paul mentioned. The sounds change up entirely as the synths drop out and are replaced by that cool reverbed out guitar tone playing straight 8th notes as Darren King (drummer) adds hi-hats and the occasional 808 floor tom to the groove. It's so stripped down and as he stated, it never starts that way. They really honed in on what the magic of the section was and polished it to perfection.
In the chorus you get the culmination of everything and the addition of rich vocal doubles. There's a lot of cool stuff going on with the guitar part, but a lot of it has to do with processing and production. The claps before the lyrics "...I do now" serve as a sort of mnemonic and I'm sure live the whole audience joins in on that. It's a clever bit of crowd participation built into the song.
More so than any previous record of theirs, the band got really deep into production on Vitals. While the goal was to simplify, the sounds themselves are very nuanced and interesting. The synths are intricate patches with multiple oscillators and LFOs that make the sounds dynamic and evolving.
The songwriting is genius to me for two reasons: The first is that each section is a clear and definite shift to a new part of the song structure. The changes in riffs and instrumentation between song sections break the song up neatly into chapters. The second is that each section evolves as the song goes on. The first and second pre-choruses have completely different instrumental parts though the melody and lyrics are the same. The drum groove is more busy in the second verse than it is in the first. Those two elements are genius to me because they keep an audience engaged and reward the listener for hearing the whole piece out.
Zooming out a bit, the magic of MUTEMATH is that all of these intricacies only dress up what is already an incredibly pocketed and vibey performance. These dudes can really play, and they've been doing it together for a long time. Their chemistry on stage and in the studio is really something special, and underneath all of the production that still comes through.
Paul Meany and Darren King founded MUTEMATH in New Orleans in 2002, bringing on Greg Hill and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Greg Hill later moved on to other projects and was replaced by Todd Gummerman on guitar. The band has released four records, all unique in their own right. The first full-length record came out in 2006 and was self titled. It featured the hit single Typical which put MUTEMATH on the map in the mainstream music world. From the same record is a track called Reset for which there is an awesome live video that is worth a gander because it gives a glimpse into the on-stage chemistry of the band. Armistice followed in 2009 which picked up sonically where MUTEMATH left off, but 2011's Odd Soul was a complete left turn. The record has an undercurrent of southern blues rock, but with the amped up energetic vibe and clever riffs and lyrics we've come to expect from the quartet. Odd Soul is a really cool departure and shows off the depth of their songwriting abilities. Last year Vitals was a return to the pop realm but in a very contemporary way, bringing to mind the production style of artists like Son Lux (whom Darren King has collaborated with) and James Blake.
If you get the opportunity to see MUTEMATH live, you'd be dumb to pass on it. They put on a hell of a show. I'll leave you with this mini documentary that serves as a nice introduction to these musicians as people, and their outlook on creating and performing music: