Procol Harum

the Pale 

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A Procol Harum fan's recommendation

MuteMath • Text and photography © Bert Saraco / Express Image

The New Orleans-based quartet known as MuteMath, while not exactly a household name, has managed to build a world-wide base of loyal, rabid fans that have fallen in love with the band’s eclectic style and explosive concert performances. In a bold move for a relatively unknown independent band, MuteMath sued Warner Brothers over disagreements about the way the music giant wanted to promote the group’s self-titled full length début (relegating it to a minor division), and decided to produce the album on their own, and sell it at concert venues and through their fast-growing online fan base. If MuteMath was like the Biblical David, Warner Brothers fell like Goliath, and the band’s début CD was ultimately released on the ‘official’ Warner Brothers label, backed by a full tour. Live performances on the major US late-night shows (David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel) followed, as well as musical contributions to two major film soundtracks ( Transformers and Twilight), and one Grammy-nominated video, for their song, Typical.

Image (c) Bert Saraco / Express ImageTheir sophomore full-length recording, Armistice, was released this summer, mid-August 2009.

Readers of 'Beyond the Pale' might, at this point, be asking, ‘So, why would I be interested in this band?’ Well, you might or might not like the band’s sound, since so much of that is subjective and a matter of personal taste, but there are certain aspects of this indie/pop/jazz/electronica -based group that should appeal to anyone that has roots in classic rock and pop songwriting. Although there’s a strong electronic ambience to many of the songs, there’s also a good musical sense to the melody lines. Lyrically, the songs are intriguing, often poetic and frequently full of thoughtful introspection. That being said, there’s an overall energy and explosive performance style (best experienced live) that typifies the band.

Paul Meany is the band’s keyboard player and lead singer, primarily using a Fender Rhodes as his instrument but also using a keytar, as well as the custom-made ‘Atari’ to create more exotic sounds and to trigger samples. Meany’s vocal style has often been compared to Sting in timbre, although his vocal phrasing is more soulful and his delivery offers more surprises. Greg Hill plays guitar in a more textural, atmospheric way than most, not a posturing soloist but a reliable musician filling in creative soundscapes for MuteMath’s unusual music. During a typical performance, Hill also mans electronic soundboards and fills in on occasional keyboard spots. Roy Mitchell-Cardenas provides a solid foundation of alternately hip/rock and jazzily serpentine bass lines, occasionally playing acoustic bass when called for.  Lastly, and of particular interest to Procol Harum fans, Darren King is one of today’s most unique drummers, not for his elaborate playing, but for his unique attack on the kit. Choosing to use the barest, most minimal set-up for his kit, King plays in an almost feverish frenzy, creating patterns and percussive textures that threaten to go completely off-track with the slightest mis-step. Like all great rock drummers, King does wonderful things playing in waltz-time (sound like anybody you’ve heard?) and knows how to use rests, breaks and pauses to amazing effect.

Comparisons to Procol Harum would be a stretch. MuteMath is a modern indie-based pop band that happens to be very charismatic, incorporates electronics and samples into their musical landscape, and knows how to put together interesting, well-written songs. Their stage shows are legendary. Procol Harum, a band that also defies most categories, uses conventional instrumentation, features outstanding performances by each member, and have survived sometimes against the odds. Musically, the two groups have little in common other than a good melodic sense (in Procol Harum’s case, an astounding one), a fiercely loyal fan-base, and a reluctance to bow down to the status-quo, but both groups are uniquely their own and have musical integrity.

Links: The Typical video, shot in one unbroken take! | Obsolete live concert segment | Spotlight video | MySpace information and a sample from the new album

MuteMath at and at

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