The Mathletes

The Mathletes

I love pop. Honest, I really, truly do — I do the dark-and-dour thing, too, but few things make me happy like a well-crafted, intelligent, quirky pop song. Which explains, frankly, why I dig The Mathletes so damn much. In spite of all protestations to the contrary, frontman/songwriter/guitarist/crazed, self-effacing genius Joe Mathlete writes some awesome (no, really), funny, oddly bent little pop songs, the likes of which kind of got swallowed up back at the end of the ’90s when bands like Eggs and The Dead Milkmen imploded. (Although, I’ll admit it, there are still neat little outfits around like Machine Go Boom, with whom The Mathletes share some serious musical genes…)

The songs all ramble and meander about, seemingly aimlessly, while Joe M. spins out bizarre (yet often touching) stories about bitter unicorns, robots who need purpose, true love, and the end of the world. And while things seem to be just rambling along, the songs are all actually surprisingly focused and tight, like strange little fractured-pop gems. If the previous comparisons don’t help you pin the sound down further, try to imagine a quavery-voiced Robert Schneider playing with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone as his backing “band.” Or, uh, Trout Fishing In America if they dropped a lot of acid and hung out with Wayne Coyne. It’s lo-to-mid- fi, it’s sweet, it’s catchy as hell, and it’s pretty freakin’ great.

The down side of The Mathletes’ genius, though, is that Joe M.’s home-recorded releases all tend to be D.I.Y. efforts, to the point where it’s damned difficult to even figure out what the band’s put out. I’ve honestly got no idea what all they’ve released, beyond 2008’s “real” album, #$@% You and Your Cool (out on Asaurus Records, a label that folded right after putting the damn thing out, naturally), and two albums of covers, The Mathletes Own Other People’s Songs and We’re the Mathletes, and We’re From Houston, So How About That, Volume One (the latter of which is all covers of H-town folks). I think there’s earlier stuff, like the legendary Fort Awesome cassette (CD-R?), but I’ve got not much clue what it was or how to get it. (Joe, if you’re reading this: hint, hint?)

And good luck finding any of the stuff I do know about if you haven’t already — your best bet is the All Star Powerup “rack” at Sound Exchange, and Joe only refills it sporadically. Which is a shame, really, because I think these folks would truly blow people away if they got more exposure, recordings-wise, outside of the city. Of course, that in itself might kill the whole thing for Joe, so maybe it’s best they remain H-town’s dirty/sweet little secret…

It’s worth mentioning, btw, that The Mathletes as a group are pretty fluid — at times there have been set groups of bass-drums-whatever playing with Joe M., but at others it’s all just him and whatever H-town scene luminaries he can drag along for the ride. (See full list of participants past & present The only constant, really, is Joe himself. If you name a local Houston indie-rock/pop band, odds are somebody in the band’s been a Mathlete at one time or another. (Heck, members of non-local people The Rosebuds/Bishop Allen and Dirty Projectors have apparently been Mathletes from time to time.)

If the musical stuff isn’t your be-all and end-all, mind you, it’s not Joe M.’s, either. He’s a wacky cartoonist/artist, has been known to dabble in musical theater, even drifting briefly to Austin for a role in the Daniel Johnston-inspired rock opera, Speeding Motorcycle, and is the guy behind the strangely humorous Marmaduke Explained site (not to mention Robot McGee Explains Fine Art, Joe Mathlete Will Draw Anything You Ask Him To On An Index Card, and the long-dormant Joe Mathlete Draws a Nipple on Ziggy’s Nose So That His Nose Looks Like A Titty). On top of all that, he and his musical cohorts — all the ones I’ve met, anyway — are honestly among the nicest people you’re likely to meet. Joe’s a good guy, truly; it’s ridiculously cool that he also happens to be so good at what he does…

Band writeup by . Band writeup posted Sunday, March 13th, 2011. Filed under Posts.

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2 Responses to “Yr. (Very Late) Weekend, Pt. 3: Joe Mathlete + SXSW Overflow Fest + Tyagaraja + Hadag Nahash + Blackguard + More”

  1. april5k on March 14th, 2011 at 9:15 am

    On a quest to kill the promoter of that white mystery show, they did play and I didn’t find out until this morning and I’m furious. I wanna know who booked it bc they did zero promotion and I’ve been wanting to see them for nearly 2 years now.

  2. Jeremy Hart on March 14th, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Ah, damn — that sucks. :( They sound like they’d be pretty awesome to see…

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