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Chances are, if you're familiar with New Orleans rockers Mute Math, it's for one of two reasons. You've either seen their shot-entirely-in-reverse video for "Typical," an internet phenomenon that's had the same career-bolstering effect for the band as that treadmill video did for OK Go, or it's because Mute Math's Paul Meany may be the only current rock frontman who regularly — and entirely without irony — performs with a keytar.
"It was a practical necessity when we were first starting our band," Meany says, explaining his embrace of the much-maligned instrument. "We were just a two-piece, just me on keyboards and Darren [King] on drums, and I was trying to make the show as visual as possible and yet accomplish as many parts of the music as possible. I'll be honest — at first I was like, 'I'm not sure I should put this thing on,' but we didn't get booed, so it was cool, and it just kinda stuck around.
"I'm trying to think... who destroyed the keytar?" he continues with a laugh. "For a while, it was a wonderful thing — where did it all go south? How did it all of a sudden become dumb? I guess some bands ruined it."
Lest you think Mute Math — fleshed out by guitarist Greg Hill and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas — prizes visual gimmicks above all else, a listen to their self-titled debut assures that substance and songwriting acumen lurk within the New Orleans quartet. "Typical" grabs a riff and groove straight out of early-'90s Madchester dance-rock and drives it right through the heart of Meany's smooth vocal melodies. Elsewhere, the band finds more intriguing ways to bring art to its pop: "Chaos" and "Noticed" merge digital squiggles with skittering beats and proggy guitars in a manner that recalls Minus the Bear; with its billowy keyboards and dreamy harmonies, the seven-minute "Stall Out" is half-lullaby, half-arena anthem; and atmospheric electro-instrumental closer "Reset" takes its cine-moody cues from the likes of U.N.K.L.E. and Massive Attack.
Formed in 2001, Mute Math recorded and self-released the disc more than a year before it was picked up and reissued by Warner Bros. in late 2006. Meany admits that while the band is antsy to write and record new material, it's also eager to capitalize on the attention coming its way via the "Typical" video (recently nominated for a Grammy), which has led to bigger touring opportunities, including its current, somewhat odd pairing with Matchbox Twenty and Alanis Morissette.
"There's nothing more exhilarating and more of an adrenaline rush than having a crowd in the beginning that hates you, and then by the end you feel the electricity as if they were your own audience. The toughest crowds that we've played for are more of the Ozzfest-band types — they usually don't have much of a tolerance for us. They like to heckle us a lot, and they don't necessarily like guys with keytars."