Review: Mathbonus – Vestiges EP

mathbonusMathbonus is an electronic music project based out of Oregon that’s been releasing music for a few years now. Mathbonus is part of an ever-growing movement in underground electronic music that takes a very cerebral and somewhat experimental approach to instrumental hip-hop music. This particular breed of electronic music most commonly indulges in some really quaint and forward-thinking beats, mid-paced tempos, and generally a very easy-going vibe to it. Mathbonus’ latest release, a five-track EP by the name of Vestiges, was independently released in December of 2014, and while it probably isn’t going to blow the minds of any listeners that are familiar with its style, I do find it to be a worthwhile set of tracks from a burgeoning project.

Listening to a handful of songs off of Vestiges, it’s pretty obvious to tell that Mathbonus has a giddy crush on the Brainfeeder collective. Tracks like “Soot” are very reminiscent of artists like Teebs, with its ethereal synth tone, as well as a click-clacking beat that’s spaced out in a really interesting way through dual audio channels. Only listening to this track and another on here “Isabelline”, some of the more cynical listeners out there may be quick to dismiss this record as a bandwagoning rip-off of artists like Teebs and Tokimonsta, but other cuts on this EP do show Mathbonus effectively dispelling these assumptions. For one, the opening track “Moonlight”, which starts out fairly minimally with just snare and subtle bass hits with a whirring synth melody. It has a pleasant sound, but it isn’t really anything that grabs my attention. But then as it develops, we start getting these rattling hi-hats and very heavy sub-bass, and the track quickly becomes a pretty good alternative trap song. It’s almost reminiscent of a beat Yung Sherman would’ve produced for Unknown Death 2002, albeit with a bit more lucidity.

If there’s anything that I think Vestiges truly excels at, it’s its atmosphere. Every song on this sub-20 minute EP has an intoxicating sense of place to it, and luckily, Mathbonus does a really nice job of varying the EP in this way as well. While the aforesaid track “Soot” feels like something you might hear whilst walking through the gates of futurist heaven, the closing track “Zenith and Nadir” has this really strange and iffy atmosphere to it, thanks to this bass-heavy drone that’s contrasted with a serene synth line playing quietly underneath it, and it manages to balance these two tones in a really unique way. I think most people that are just tuning into Vestiges for the first time are just going to expect the whole album to have this one static atmosphere akin to skinny dipping in a warm pool of melted Sour Patch Kids, so I think it was a good idea to offer up some different moods throughout the tracks here to subvert one of the biggest stereotypes heaped onto this style of music.

With that said, I wouldn’t say Vestiges is a perfect release. There are some tracks on here that pale in comparison to others, and some that just aren’t that attention-grabbing. While the track “Vestiges” is sweet and lush with its main synth melody that almost feels new wave-influenced, it’s a bit too faint to be gripping, and it’s hard not to let it fall into the background upon repeat listens of the EP. Aside from that, there are also a couple tracks on Vestiges that feel too short, like “Isabelline”, whose last quarter seems like it’s building up to a really epic and fulfilling climax, but then the song just sort of stops out of nowhere. It could easily have been designed to end this way, but to my ears it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could’ve been.

Despite some shortcomings, though, Vestiges is a good and worthwhile EP. While its appeal will most likely be restricted to those who are already hardcore into the sound that Mathbonus toys with on this EP, those who fall into that category will most likely be enamoured by the impressively-assembled instrumental hip-hop on display. Between very detailed and varied beats, some vivid and lively textures, and a good sense of variety through, Vestiges manages to stand out as a solid endeavour in a somewhat oversaturated market. More than anything, though, Mathbonus’ latest release has me excited to see where he takes his sound from here, because while there isn’t anything on this EP that’s revolutionary or life-affirming, I do think they are on the cusp of carving out a distinct sound that transcends a lot of MOR bedroom producers out there. Mathbonus is definitely a promising local artist to watch out for in 2015.

Your friend,
Jess Casebeer