The Essential Guide to Math rock, or a list of bands that wont get you laid, but might blow your mind.
Math rock; its just a load of dudes in a sweaty room, wanking on their instruments right? Wrong, well actually, that's basically it, but to call it that would be missing the point of instrumental music. Its basically stupidly intricate guitar melodies combined with insane time signatures that make you say; "How did they do that?" without the whole band descending into a 70's Prog rock solo-off, oh yeah and there no vocals! sounds boring? Check this guide to the crucial element and their related albums, and if you don't dig them, ill buy your ticket to ATP festival next year.
1) Four to the Floor
Obscure time signatures are the bread and butter of math rock, maybe that's where the name comes from (even if it is dislike by most bands). Being rubbish at maths never stopped me from appreciating the mastery of time some drummers have. Whether its a song with one giant drum fill (Check out Zach Hills album Astrological Straights and the 30 minute drum roll Necromancer. Or his work in Hella from the album Hold Your Horses Is.) Or its Damon Ches eight limbs destroying his drum skins for Don Caballero, (Don Caballero 3). As you can see the foundations of a great math band is a drummer who is half man, half drum machine.
2) Shred is dead
The guitarist can define which direction a math rock band goes in. Whether it's a technical tap band (Volta do Mar), a relaxed laid back groove (Pele), a dark repetitive vamping style (Slint) or loopy electronic noodling (Battles/Tortoise). Of course there are many other styles of math rock emphasising heavy chugging riffs (Pelican) however, these are closer to math metal than math rock, but now were getting into a debate about genres, and that's a whole other article.
3) In Math, No-one can hear you scream
One of the main reasons I like math rock is its lack of vocals, this leaves the music to speak for itself. If I want to listen to lyrics ill listen to Bob Dylan, not Hellas lastest album (Theres no 666 in outer space) which features vocals and was, in my humble opinion, a step back. However, saying this bands like Foals, American Football, and Battles, have used vocals and samples to bring Math to the mainstream, which makes it more accessible to the masses. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is arguably more math pop, than math rock.
4) Name that tune
You gotta have quirky song titles to be a true Professor of Math, while some may be pretentious; others show the less serious side of math rock. Some of my favourite titles are: Want to Come Back to My Room and Listen to Some Belle and Sebastian? -This Town Needs Guns Japanese Ultra-Violence in D-Minor (the Saddest Chord)- This Town Needs Guns I'll Forget About You Throwing That Rock Cos That Dance Was Pretty Funny- This Town Needs Guns It's Not True Rufus, Don't Listen to the Hat- This Town Needs Guns
In conclusion, math rock is pretty hard to define, its fundamentally instrumental music with each band blazing their own trail, and taking notes from no lecturer. If you want to check out the best math rock albums my personal top 5 are:
- Don Caballero- American Don
- Hella- The Devil Isn't Red
- Battles- Mirrored
- Volta Do Mar- 03>98
- Slint- Spiderland
And remember, if it sounds like a load of men with beards masturbating, then your listening to the latest Don Cab record, join in!