Math-rock has always seemed like a passive aggressive insult to me. Some lazily coined term concocted by some alpha-male lead singer in his tight leather pants who would much rather cover Van Halen for the umpteenth time than actually grow as a musician. Unfortunately, it is a term that has stuck. I know when I hear it, I immediately think of trying to stay awake in my 10th-grade math class. Don’t You(,)Mean People?’s Friends is far from boring and calculated though. Oh sure, this is very intelligent music, but it is also beautiful, happy, playful, and at times even pensive. So, whether you are a musical jock or nerd, you will find a reason to rejoice. Not only might this be one of the most accessible math-rock albums I’ve ever heard, but one of the best albums of the year!
Even though this is an instrumental album, it is hardly background music. I mean, yes, it’s a great soundtrack to even the most mundane of everyday tasks, but that’s because it’s engaging without drawing you away from what you’re doing. It is equally fun and fascinating. There is enough of a groove that you’ll want to tap your foot, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything challenging like their previous work. Odd time signatures and complex rhythms are still very much a part of this band’s arsenal. What is miraculous is that they don’t sound like they are showing off or forcing it. Everything is in service of the song. You don’t have to know a lot about music to dig these tunes but if you do, prepare to be blown the fuck away! Mathematics rarely gets this close to being so likeable!
Because these guys aren’t being complex just to be complex, they seem to be drawing from many different influences. “Danny plays the craps” hits the ground running with a funk/jazz groove and Taylor Price’s wonderfully appropriate classical guitar work. “Cap’n Ted” is downright goofy and oddly gives me the image of a deranged Yacht owner with a little too much confidence.”Indigo Girl” is more melancholic and suggests that there is a hidden vulnerability underneath this merry band of optimists. The final two tracks, “Toad Talitarian” and “Plain Jane,” are where they really get to flex their muscles. The bass line, courtesy of MVP Mack Davis, sounds fucking exhausting (in a good way), and Alex Cummins 10-second drum solo is the rarity in that it doesn’t wear out its welcome or feel tacked on in any way.
Despite how amazing Friends is, not everyone is going to love it. It is the kind of record that you DO NOT introduce at parties! I still do believe that it is accessible, especially considering its tight running time of just over 22-minutes. Sadly, there are a lot of people out there that hear an instrumental and automatically disregard it as background noise. It doesn’t help that the production qualities are so clean and polished. This is definitely not “edgy” music that will immediately grab you by the collar. That said, I implore you to keep an open mind because the musicianship is just that incredible! It will overtake any skepticism you might have about the strange sub-genre that is math-rock.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy