Math the Band are stationed out of Providence, Rhode Island, and for the past decade-and-change, they’ve cranked out release after release of punk rock hopped up on 8-bit sound effects and childish glee. While I could spend time describing their sound and overall aesthetic, it seems more appropriate to first suggest that you just imagine the audio equivalent of this wackiness:
Their last effort, 2012’s Get Real, was a full-throttle, in-the-red, sugar-rush of a listening experience. If a group of toddlers were fed nothing but Lucky Charms and Mountain Dew for a weekend and then turned loose on a room full guitars and vintage synths (we’ll assume, for the sake of this scenario, that the toddlers are also passably good musicians), you could scarcely imagine a more exuberant record. While Stupid and Weird has its fair share of tracks that could go toe-to-toe with the most gonzo offerings of its predecessor, the record on a whole feels curiously restrained. There are whole songs that offer respite from the thundering cascade of MtB’s programmed drum beats, songs where Kevin Steinhauser’s voice drops below a shout, even songs that peel the layers of guitar and Nintendo sound effects back far enough to make room for a wicked sax solo.
With this newfound restraint comes an accompanying sense of gravity. Amid giddy celebrations of self-destruction like “I Ate the Mold” and playful self-affirmations like “Give Me a Break” surface moments of honest introspection. “Well I been doin’ this stuff for/ Most of my life/ But I still haven’t found my voice,” Steinhauser admits on “Voice.” It’s a jarring moment coming from a band that wrote a pep talk for Satan. Sentiments of frustration and downright hopelessness crop up throughout, from the title track all the way to the final two-song suite, “Going Back to School, pts 1 and 2.” It’s almost as if Math the Band, having made a career of turning their back on the adult world, have found themselves face to face with some of its more unnerving realities.
By opening themselves up to these quieter, more inward-looking moments, MtB craft a necessary sense of variety. Where Get Real could sometimes overwhelm with its just-too-much-ness, Stupid and Weird manages an intriguing arc. It seems fundamentally wrong to describe a group still capable of giving us lines like “Have another drink and use the power tools” as “mature,” but Math the Band’s latest release finds Steinhauser and Justine Mainville becoming just a little more reflective, even if they remain defiantly juvenile.