CD Title: Inverse: (Special limited edition release) (2009)
Rating: 2.718 stars (out of 5)

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The rating stands. (Spoiler alert: We rounded.) Actually, we took our cue here from Leonard Euler. Our rating is actually “e,” as in the sound of the squeals that will inevitably emanate from the ladies of Cambridge after they all get a hold of Inverse come two months. Yes, M.I.T.’s finest are back with a shtick to shake up the innumerate masses for whom any further mention of the band’s album sales sends us critics to sleep, and more than a few of the recent graduates of that other school up the river into jealous fits.

The locals’ reaction is only natural, a function of their irrational excitement at seeing a few local kids done good: The three engineering majors, who first met when they lived near one another in Random Hall, used to play pick-up games in Killian Court, and now they’re playing Paradise and The Middle East. On Inverse, the band’s characteristic technical precision is back–mens et manus (mind and hand), indeed! Their rhythms can get tricky, though, as can some of the band members’s in-jokes: “Hack,” the lead single, may or may not refer to their campus’s slang for prank. Had the band intended for Inverse to be a one-off, though, then the joke’s on us: The album art, an eager beaver (“nature’s engineer”), suggests that they’re getting just as much of a kick out of playing with us as we get out of listening to their tracks.

Is this math rock? Does it matter? We’ve heard the damn thing called everything from Back Bay bhangra (“Ramanujan,” ostensibly a paean to the mathematician) to orchestral pop (“Kendall Square”). We’ll cede the point this time: Who else but these kids could work a reference to Andrew Wiles’ paper on Fermat’s Last Theorem into a freestyle meditation on feminine wiles (“I Need Proof”)? What does Back Bay bhangra even mean? (Bhangra originated in the Punjab; Ramanujan was Tamil.) Nothing? Oh, that may be our bad: The review where we read that might have said South Boston bodhran, as in the Irish hand drum, but whatever. The bonus track is a live cover of “Love Minus Zero (No Limit),” obvs.

You know, we don’t even know anymore. Say that Inverse is derivative, and you’re labeled a hater. Admit that it will soon be integral to your seasonal soundtrack, and all of the sudden you’re an apologist. All we’re asking for is a return to an equilibrium, because at its best, Inverse is transcendent. (Like a function. That’s the idea. Haters gonna hate.) Who gives two shits about using Ohm’s Law after high school physics? These kids do, and it shows on Inverse. The band’s created a formula for success, and we can’t fault them for that. Love minus zero? Well, it’s all love here!

We’re not sure we have ever heard a single one of their songs.