Chaos – Mute Math

A Critical Evaluation of the song ‘Chaos,’ by Mute Math

Alternative Electro-Pop rock band Mute Math come with something of a chequered history. Several of the current line-up have previously collaborated with each other in the overtly Christian group Earthsuit. This pre-incarnation of Mute Math released a number of independent albums before signing a deal with Christian music label Sparrow Records. However the relationship was short lived, spawning just one commercial release and the two parted ways citing, “creative differences and marketing conundrums.”[1] Eventually this led to the break-up of Earthsuit and the formation of Mute Math.[2]

Mute Math launched themselves into the music world with their first EP, Reset. The EP caught the eye of Warner Bros. executives who quickly signed the emerging rockers. More trouble lay ahead though as the band completed their first full album, the self-titled MUTEMATH. Disagreements over which arm of the Warner Bros. marketing department the band should be promoted through led to a law suit being filed by the band’s own record label Teleprompt, which eventually forced Warner Bros. to release the album with a broader mainstream appeal.[3] The band’s first single Typical achieved reasonable chart success in the US, but it was the song’s music video which catapulted the band into the consciousness of the wider world. The video featuring the group performing the song backwards was an Internet sensation and found the band a regular slice of MTV air time. [4] A further boost to the band’s popularity came when Typical was performed on the popular US show American Idol. A Grammy nomination for best Music Video would follow as would the bragging rights of having a downloadable track for Rock Band.[5]

Outside of the multiple successes of Typical the band also boast the privilege of re-recording the title track for the 2007 Hollywood blockbuster Transformers. And the chart success that is so often used as a measuring stick for success came with a number one hit from their second EP, Spotlight.[6]

However there is another song that stands out on their debut album, a song which has become a fan’s favourite at live shows; Chaos.

As the title of the track suggest the song addresses the theme of chaos, specifically the chaos of life that is born out of either self-reliance or others letting us down. Moreover, the song addresses such chaos through a clear Gospel lens, speaking strongly two biblical truths.  On the one hand life is chaotic, neither the individual nor those around them can bring any real measure of calm to the chaos. On the other hand in all the chaos, all the hurt, all the confusion, there is an anchor, a place of calm we can go to and find stability and peace. Chaos then is a song that deals with life’s unpredictability but also a song that addresses the questions, ‘Where do we go for stability? Who’s really in control? Is there anyone or anything we can trust?’

Lyrically the song can be broken down into three distinct sections. Firstly, addressing the hopelessness of self-dependence and the fanciful dream of actually being in control, secondly, the unsuitability of looking to others as a place of salvation when they are just as prone to disappoint and finally the ‘other’, the person outside of our chaos who can be in control and doesn’t let us down as some have done in the past.

 

The first verse speaks about the individual’s need to always be in control coupled with the absolute absurdity of thinking control is ever really an attainable goal, “I can’t avoid what I can’t control, And I’m losing ground, Still I can’t stand down.”[7] The lie that we can be in control permeates our Western culture as we have been empowered to depend solely on ourselves through the intellectual liberation of the enlightenment and the economic liberation of the industrial revolution, both playing their part in selling the lie, ‘If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.’[8] But as the song suggests (and the onslaught of post modernity illustrates) the lie simply can’t deliver. Left to ourselves we have no control, we’re simply losing ground each step of the way.

This resonates with a biblical worldview. Wasn’t man’s first sin to desire to be like God, knowing for himself what was right and wrong, being in control of everything (Genesis 3:5)? Doesn’t the historical narrative of the Bible paint a picture of humanity which grasps at controlling its own destiny but falls short time after time in ever increasingly spectacular fashions? [9]

In this sense the song provides honesty at two points. Firstly, that the desire exists in everyone to be their own gods, to be their own saviours. Secondly that this supposed ‘self-sufficiency’ we crave is in fact hugely insufficient. Mankind simply does not have what it takes; too much is outside of our control. “Our world is false…our sight is lost…we’re losing ground.”

 

The second verse speaks about past hurts, let downs which have come from depending on those who couldn’t in reality be depended upon, “It’s hard to trust anyone again, After all the let downs I’ve been through, Haunted by what I’ve been through.” If we’ve tried and failed at relying on ourselves the next place we look to is others. Be it with friends, family or relationships there is something in people that needs another to validate us. But, just as sure as we are unable to control a world that is so much bigger than us, the people who we look to as functional saviours let us down. This can be a harsh word from a friend, the death of a relative, the betrayal of a spouse. Somehow people always find a way to let you down.

Is this unnecessarily pessimistic about the state of humanity? Or is it a realistic rendering of the world in which we live? The Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned, that there’s not one person that can truly be depended upon because the same fragility that saw ourselves fail when playing the part of god will see others fail if we place that burden on them too (Romans 3:23).

Again the song provides an honest assessment not only of those probable paths we’ll take when we slip up, throwing ourselves into the arms of another person, but the inevitable let down and hurt that will follow when we expect more from a person than they could possibly deliver.

 

It wouldn’t be at all odd for a song that deals with such themes to finish there, downcast and without hope. Bands that form the ‘emo’ movement make a living from such despairing odes.[10] But tying these two verses, these two sinking ships, together is a chorus that points to the rock that cannot be sunk.

While the verses leave the listener honestly asking, ‘Is there any hope?’ the chorus and outro scream a resounding, ‘yes!’ This hope isn’t found in us nor is it found in an ultimately disappointing relationship. It is found in an unnamed other. “I know you stay true when my world is false…I always seek you when my sight is lost.”

While the song doesn’t name the One who stays true when the world is false it does suggest that it’s not just another run of the mill relationship. In the gospels God is described as the only true God.[11] Elsewhere God is described as the one whose word is true.[12]And Paul describes God as the one to whom blind people must go in order to receive sight (2 Cor. 4:3-6). Biblically speaking then, the only place or person we can turn to is God. He is someone outside the world, someone outside these painful relationships and self-harm, someone who can bear the weight of responsibility that comes from being in control. Jesus himself called all who were heavy laden (in chaos) to come to him to find rest (calm) (Matthew 11:28).

From first to last the song is reminiscent of many of the Psalms, the repeated phrase, “Yeah I know, Yeah I know.” is evocative of David’s speaking to his own soul in Psalm 42. David, aware of his propensity to forget, takes the initiative and reminds himself, almost preaches to himself of the wonderful truths about God. This is exactly what is happening in Chaos, the initiative is being taken and it is being drummed into our heads, “You can’t hack it, others will let you down, but God will never fail.”

But is it a onetime solution? Is depending on God for everything the key to health, wealth and happiness? Cynics might suggest that it is lazy song writing which sees the chorus repeated over and again as the song concludes but even in that repetition we see an honesty about life with God as our rock. Like waves that come and constantly beat upon the coastline, so do our own struggles and failures, hurts and let downs. But always God is the strong refuge that David prescribes his own troubled soul (Psalm 43).

 

Musically the song reinforces all of these ideas developed lyrically above. They follow a similar pattern with the interplay between frantic, chugged guitar and almost random synth sounds to provide a mood of chaos and loss of control. The open ended, ringing chords then provide the listener with a sense of calm serenity.[13] For those wishing to feel the head-spinning confusion that life can bring, the song delivers, but it doesn’t leave us there in the midst of the storm, instead it sweeps us up and deposits us in a place of tranquil sunshine.

 

Conclusion

Fundamentally the song can be considered an example of Christian popular art not because of its lack of swearing, adult themes and drug references or because it reaches some predetermined quota of ‘Lord’s,’ ‘Hallelujah’s,’ or ‘Praise Him’s.’ Chaos doesn’t even name the One we’re called to depend upon! Rather, what makes the song Christian is the way it speaks truth about the human condition, the human need to be at peace and in control. It speaks truth about the utter emptiness of our proposed solutions, be it in ourselves or in another person, and it speaks truth by pointing us to someone bigger, someone more capable and qualified to bring that peace and intimacy we yearn for at the most fundamental level. While the song doesn’t mention God or Jesus by name it does paint an imaginative world in which ‘another’ is the solution to our problem. That’s what makes Chaos Christian and that’s what makes it so refreshing to listen to.


[1] Andree Farias, “Review: The Rise of Modern Simulation,” n.p. [cited 29/10/2010]. Online: http://www.thefish.com/music/reviews/11619112/The-Rise-of-Modern-Simulation.

[2] NME, “Earthsuit Biography,” n.p. [cited 29/10/2010]. Online: http://www.nme.com/artists/earthsuit.

[3] Stewart Mason, “Mute Math Biography,” n.p. [cited 29/10/2010]. Online: http://www.billboard.com/artist/mutemath/bio/631068#/artist/mutemath/bio/631068.

[4] Receiving 100,000 views in its first four days and having over 2million views in total to date athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XVWR-5fiG0. Wikipedia, “Typical,” n.p. [cited 28/10/2010]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typical_(song).)

[5] Wikipedia, “Mute Math,” n.p. [cited 28/10/2010]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutemath.

[6] Wikipedia, “Mute Math,” n.p.

[7] See appendix 1 for full lyrics. Mute Math, Chaos (MUTEMATH; Franklin, Tenn.: Teleprompt, 2006; repr., Burbank, Calif.: Warner Bros., 2006).

[8] Lyric from R. Kelly, I believe I Can Fly (Space Jam: Music from and inspired by the Motion Picture; New York, N.Y.: Jive, 1996).

[9] For an example of this see the ever decreasing state of Israel and its rulers in the book of Judges.

[10] ‘Emo’ is shorthand for ‘Emotive Punk Rock’ which is music characterised by the melancholy of both the lyrics and the melodies used.

[11] For example see chapter 17 of John’s Gospel.

[12] For example see chapter 119 of the Book of Psalms.

[13] Chugging is a term used by guitarists to describe the style of strumming the guitar hard, fast and in a sharp downward motion thus producing a distinctive sound.


Bibliography

Farias, Andree. “Review: The Rise of Modern Simulation.” No pages. Cited 29/10/2010. Online: http://www.thefish.com/music/reviews/11619112/The-Rise-of-Modern-Simulation.

Kelly, R. I believe I Can Fly. Space Jam: Music from and inspired by the Motion Picture. New York, N.Y.: Jive, 1996.

Mason, Stewart. “Mute Math Biography.” No pages. Cited 29/10/2010. Online: http://www.billboard.com/artist/mutemath/bio/631068#/artist/mutemath/bio/631068.

Mute Math. Chaos. MUTEMATH. Franklin, Tenn.: Teleprompt, 2006. Repr., Burbank, Calif.: Warner Bros., 2006.

NME. “Earthsuit Biography.” No pages. Cited 29/10/2010. Online: http://www.nme.com/artists/earthsuit.

Wikipedia. “Mute Math.” No pages. Cited 28/10/2010. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutemath.

———. “Typical.” No pages. Cited 28/10/2010. Online:

 

Appendix 1

Verse 1

Complication’s my claim to fame
And I can’t believe there’s another
Constantly just another
I can’t avoid what I can’t control
And I’m losing ground
Still I can’t stand down
And I know, yeah I know, yeah

Chorus

I know you stay true when my world is false
And everything around is making time a chaos
I always seek you when my sight is lost
And everything around is making time a chaos

Verse 2

It’s hard to trust anyone again
After all the letdowns I’ve been through
Haunted by what I’ve been through
Best to try while I still can breathe
And I’m screaming out
Give me hope somehow
And I know, yeah I know, yeah

Chorus
I know you stay true when my world is false
And everything around is making time a chaos
I always seek you when my sight is lost
And everything around is making time a chaos

I know you stay true when my world is false
And everything around is making time a chaos
I always seek you when my sight is lost
And everything around is making time a chaos

Chaos, chaos
I know you stay true, yeah
I know you stay, yeah, yeah, yeah

I know you stay true, everything around’s making time
I know you stay true, everything around’s making time

I know you stay true when my world is false
And everything around is making time a chaos
I always seek you when my sight is lost
And everything around is making time a chaos

I know you stay true when my world is false
And everything around is making time a chaos
I always seek you when my sight is lost
And everything around is making time a chaos

 

One Response to “Chaos – Mute Math”

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  1. Chaos – Mute Math « saintbeagle - 03/11/2010

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