The Mathletes – Jest & Earnest

The Mathletes
Jest & Earnest

“Conor Oberst must die / He gets more exposure than I,” begins “I Hate Bright Eyes (Battle Rhyme),” Joe Mathlete’s shot across the quirky singer/songwriter’s bow, whom he later describes as “as self-absorbed as Dashboard Confessional.” Ouch. It’s a funny song, as much a self-deprecating confession of Joe Mathlete’s own envy as it is a “battle rhyme.” Joe points out his similarities with Oberst, how prolific both of them are, how deficient in self-esteem. But as much as I would love for this to turn into the next Jay-Z versus Nas, let’s just say that’s probably not so likely. It’s possible that Joe is taking the wrong tack here, going after a dude who’s got a fan base that might really appreciate The Mathletes, namely those who like their rock stars nerdy as hell and resolutely lo-fi.

As “I Hate Bright Eyes (Battle Rhyme)” makes clear, The Mathletes are an indie project in the truest sense of the word, having knocked out something on the order of 20 homemade CD-Rs before being picked up by Asaurus. Primarily (entirely?) the work of frontman Joe Mathlete, the band continues its aggressive pursuit of the cute on Jest & Earnest. For my ears, it’s a little too much. First of all, Jest & Earnest is an oppressively long album. The first disc alone (“Flotsam and Toejam”) contains 23 songs, 23 cloying, nasal songs. The second (“Songs I Wrote About Girls”) is even longer.

My main problem is that the whole project reeks of a talented kid with some home studio equipment just fucking around. “I think I’ll write a song about animals,” or “I think I’ll write a love song to Cat Power,” he thinks to himself. And really, why not? But I can’t help thinking that the Mathlete oeuvre was more fun to make than it is to listen to. Personally, I had a tough time with Joe Mathlete’s voice, which is actually more annoying than Oberst’s.

But if you do like this sort of thing, then Jest & Earnest gives you a whole lot of it. So enjoy.