The most successful element at the core of Mutoid Man’s debut album lies with an inherent contradiction in the first impression that the record conveys. On one hand, anybody familiar with the members’ other bands – whether Steve Brodsky’s work with Cave In, or Ben Koller’s drumming for Converge and All Pigs Must Die – can likely imagine more or less how the album sounds without hearing a note.
Mutoid Man – Helium Head (Magic Bullet Records)
The most successful element at the core of Mutoid Man’s debut album lies with an inherent contradiction in the first impression that the record conveys. On one hand, anybody familiar with the members’ other bands – whether Steve Brodsky’s work with Cave In, or Ben Koller’s drumming for Converge and All Pigs Must Die – can likely imagine more or less how the album sounds without hearing a note. On the other, the duo (who have subsequently upgraded to a trio) intermingles their approaches seamlessly and artfully into an end result dizzying and exhilarating enough to catch even an astute listener off guard.
This is hardly to suggest that Helium Head sounds like some sort of pastiche Frankensteined out of elements culled from Koller and Brodsky’s larger body of work. While it might be tempting to think of the album as a poppy Jane Doe or a thrashy Jupiter, any parallels stem primarily from each member having a distinct enough approach to their craft that certain sonic signifiers are going to be inescapable. The material blasts off from the start, and for the album’s sixteen-minute running time (which feels unfortunately brief, though it’s largely better to leave an audience wanting more than to leave them with too much), it fails to relent in its displays of technical intricacy. Unlike so many bands that opt for instrumental gusto, Mutoid Man’s complexities manage to support the memorable songwriting rather than overshadow it.
Therein lies the real triumph. Despite the aggression, despite the insanely catchy melodicism, Helium Head finds itself saturated with the sort of preponderance of ideas that would weigh down and bloat a lesser band’s output into unlistenable pomposity. Though no song reaches the three-minute mark, the streamlined, vicious songwriting compacts whole albums’ worth of odd time signatures, abrupt transitions, and intricate polyrhythms into concise bursts of energy. The songs stand as a testament to the members’ facility with such compositional tools; an intimate familiarity bred by decades’ worth of immersion, a level of exposure that allows them to turn what could easily become pretentious and showy into a singular whole, equally accesible and experimental, conceptually developed and frantic.
While Mutoid Man could hardly be seen as a sharp divergence from the output of its members, neither does it stand as a mere footnote. Both the off-the-cuff energy that permeate the songs and the structural sophistication that undergirds them result from the seasoned hands at their helm, guiding forces that are able to harness the component elements. They’re less reining them in than establishing a context in which they can operate – each delirious fragment of sound informing and expanding upon the other until a frenetic blur is all that remains. Though Helium Head certainly possesses precedents that might give some indication of the content therein, the songs carry themselves on the sort of undeniable vivacity that can’t be summed up by tidy comparisons.