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The New Math

The Mathematicians
Level One (self-released)

After the countless per mutations, combinations and recombinations of rock bands in the Capital Region, there’s finally a band who perfectly balance the equation of smart, modern, fun and danceable, all while staying within the wonderful tradition of pop music. The Mathematicians have invented a type of postmodern music theater, with technology-obsessed high-school-math nerds Pete Pythagoras, Dewi Decimel and Albert Gorithim IV playing music that’s somehow hipper than thou whilst ever know. Level One wraps itself around the tradition of electronic-based music while seemingly wrapping it all up at the same time. Starting with Devo and ending with pre-IDM techno, with all derivations of pop, dance and ’80s hiphop fit between, the Mathematicians have met with the teacher, pulled all-nighters, and studied their tighty-whitey-clad asses off to get their homework done in time for this album.

The best songs on Level One, like “Not A Theme,” “Binary Girl” and “Subtract My Life,” are sharp, hard-hitting foot-stompers that would’ve been at home on Devo’s Are We Not Men, We Are Devo. The lighthearted disco-reggae ditty “Cruisin” tells the story of a shady male robot trying to pick up a female robot with the help of his electro-gas-hybrid convertible (and the line “So, if one plus one equals you, can I get the sum?”). “Child of Satan” is Gorithim’s paranoid freakout, a countdown lesson on the postmodern family unit given by a demented Count from Sesame Street. “4 Eyes,” an amateurish hiphop rant by Pythagarous, sounds so much like Lamar’s rap in Revenge of the Nerds that you wonder why they don’t just cover it. As good as this album is (and really, it’ll be one of the best this year), some may be thinking warily about the math-geek shtick as being, well, too much.

Shticks are usually a hazard zone. They can provide lowbrow amusement or be inviting to the uninitiated, but more often they’re boring and unnecessary. Rarely is a shtick prerequisite to the music, the lack of which might undermine an artist’s aesthetic aspirations (think Elvis, Kraftwerk and the Beastie Boys). But that’s how it is for the Mathematicians. It helps that their music is so shockingly good, and being able to pull it off live is equally impressive. But in the end, this is dorky, futurist techno-rock, so who better to make it than dorky, futurist techno-rockers, even if fictional and exaggerated? Rather than get stigmatized for being another hipster band, the Mathematicians are better off subverting the whole enterprise and dorking it out as far as they can. If this is devolution, we’re better off than we thought.

—John Suvannavejh

Brian Wilson
Gettin’ in Over My Head (Rhino)

Brian Wilson’s third solo album is his best work in years, largely because of the arrangements and partly because it’s honest. If nothing else, Gettin’ proves that Wilson, largely AWOL in the ’80s and half of the ’90s, hasn’t lost his lovely, eccentric audio sense.

Parts are really good, like “How Could We Still Be Dancin’,” a rocker featuring Elton John on chorus and boogie piano; “Soul Searchin’,” an overdubbed duet with deceased Beach Boy brother Carl, who recorded a lead vocal for an unreleased Beach Boys album; and “City Blues,” a cut featuring uncharacteristically awake Eric Clapton guitar.

The lyrics are often shaky, however, particularly on “Desert Drive” (a ringer for several early-’60s Beach Boys celebrations of surfing and hot cars), “Rainbow Eyes” and “Make a Wish,” one of Wilson’s gooier utopian efforts. But even these sound good; the vocal arrangements are gorgeous, bedding Wilson’s thin tenor to sumptuous effect. He was never as good at thinking as at sounding out.

Some tunes are new; others are what CD annotator and longtime Brian Wilson support David Leaf calls “trunk tunes,” works-in-progress that Wilson has been toting for years and finally finished here. Doesn’t matter; the album works as a whole. Even the stiff “Rainbow Eyes” and “The Waltz,” a daffy, curiously Grant Wood-styled collaboration with Van Dyke Parks that caps the album, communicate an oddball charm.

The psychological tension that has informed Brian Wilson’s best work—the gap between the resolutely- regular-guy image communicated by the Beach Boys’ music and marketing and the truly tortured artist at Brian Wilson’s core—is beautifully mounted here. Despite cameos from Elton John, Clapton and Sir Paul McCartney, Gettin’ is pure Brian Wilson, warts and all. And it never sounds less than great.

—Carlo Wolff

The Holy Modal Rounders
Bird Song: Live 1971 (Water)

All hail the Water label! After bringing The Holy Modal Rounders’ Moray Eels album back into the light of day, they’ve struck up a relationship with the band’s guiding light, the ever-vibrant Peter Stampfel. (His liner notes are always a delightful bonus, and the directness, humor and utter believability that are an earmark of his music are his fuel on the page as well.) This set is from a live radio broadcast in 1971 when they had expanded to a seven-piece band with the addition of bass, drums and saxophone/flute. Freewheeling as a duo of Stampfel and Steve Weber in the mid-’60s, by now they were doing it as a bona fide rock band. Stoned or not, this is stoned music in the best sense of the word: It follows its own logic as they amuse themselves with their ability to use their solid skills in service to the resiliency of character, loopy dramatics and mildly fractured interludes. The band were undergoing a severe rift at the time, with Stampfel’s desires being voted down in favor of this rowdier streamlining. Consequently, his most obvious contributions tend to come in the form of the few songs he fronted: entirely different musically, but similar to the diminished role Lowell George played in Little Feat. The amazing thing here is that they still functioned as one throbbing whole, rolling from one song to the next with palpable glee. Even the drum solo feels fine!

—David Greenberger


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