Given the fact that it’s been four years since MUTEMATH released Odd Soul, during which period an entire album was scrapped in favour of recording new material, it makes complete sense that Vitals came out as strong as it did. By taking their alt rock label and taking it in a different direction, MUTEMATH run the risk of taking their music to the edge of mainstream pop; rather than depicting them as potential sell-outs, however, this becomes the reason that Vitals is so enjoyable.
Rather than following in the blues-covered footsteps of Odd Soul, Vitals is grounded in the world of synthpop, disco and dance rock. It’s somewhat divided into sections, opening with its liveliest numbers like the guitar-driven synthpop of Joy Rides and the synth-aided alt rock of the thrilling lead single Monument, before entering its experimental phase after All I See and later ending on more subdued pop songs. Synths are in ample supply here, spread across the album despite tempo of the track, tying the three sections together; Joy Rides relies just as much on the beeping bass and sparkling chorus synths as it does on its funky guitar line, and Used To’s mid-tempo arrangement is tied into the rest of the album with its dub-inspired wobble bass accompaniment, with electronics being the main thing that ties all the album’s slower tracks into its upbeat ones.
More than just covering the album, the use of synths are its defining feature; they’re what give the album its pop appeal, and makes it such a different beast to Odd Soul. Even used minimally or in a less obvious manner, they add more to a song than you might think on first listen, as we see in Remains. Best of Intentions makes the best use of synths, however, bringing them to the complete forefront for a disco-driven dance number with a euphorically sparkling chorus and buzzing middle eight; as a complete package, it feels strange stuck between the experimental middle section and flower closing portion of the album, but stands out because of its positioning as well.
With all of these synth-driven rock tracks, disco numbers and ambient electro ballads dominating the album, it’s initially difficult to line it up with Odd Soul. At the same time, these changes led to an improved sense of quality, and in turn a much stronger album, albeit one that older fans may not appreciate as much. MUTEMATH show a good mix of influences as they work synthpop and rock together, completely nailing their new style on Joy Rides and Best of Intentions and remaining consistent throughout. While this might not be the exact same band that everyone knew and loved four years ago, change isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, on Vitals it might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to them.