Music Mondays: Math Rock
For this weeks Music Mondays, I wanted to try a different genre. Something I hadn’t really heard of before. I did a bit of google searching and came across this genre: Math Rock. I had heard of it once and didn’t think it was an actual genre. But…it actually is! Believe it or not…Math rock is a rhythmically complex, often guitar-based, style of experimental rock that had emerged in the late 1990s, influenced by progressive rock bands like King Crimson as well as 20th century minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. I will probably get into progressive and experimental rock at a later date, for the record.Now on to the main event~
Normal Rock music uses a basic 4/4 meter. Math rock, however, uses asymmetrical time signatures such a 7/8, 11/8 or 13/8. They might also use features that might constantly change the meters based on various groupings of 2 and 3. This is seen as “mathematical” and is what mostly gives the genre it’s name. The music of Math rock is mostly dominated by guitars and drums just like traditional rock. However, due to the complex rhythms, math rock groups tend to stick out more than groups of other genres. Also, it’s normal for guitarists in math rock groups to use the “tapping” method of guitar playing and loop pedals can also be used occasionally. Guitar playing is often played in clean tones more than other “upbeat” rock songs. Distortion is sometimes used, depending on the group.
Lyrics are generally not the main focus of math rock; the voice is treated as just another sound in the mix. Often, lyrics are not overdubbed, and are positioned low in the mix, as in the recording style of Steve Albini. Many of math rock’s most famous groups are entirely instrumental such as Don Caballero. Side note: The term math rock has often been passed off as a joke that has developed into what some believe is a musical style.
Influences across the country:
During the 1990s, the greatest concentration of math rock bands was in the urban centers of the Midwest ranging from Minneapolis to Buffalo, with Chicago being a central hub (naturally). The Chicago-based sound engineer Steve Albini is a key figure in the scene, and many math rock bands from around the country have enlisted him to record their albums, giving the genre’s recorded catalog a certain uniformity of sound, and lumping his bands past and present. Also, many math rock records were released by Chicago-based Touch and Go Records.
One of the few math rock bands from the Detroit area was Philo Beddow. The band originally leaned toward an aggressive and dissonant sound that would be more associated with mathcore. They went on to develop a warmer sound that often consisted of more traditionally melodic vocal lines laid over angular instrumentation in patterned mixed meters and triplet-time (sorry for those who don’t have a music background and might be confused). These compositions tended to emphasize the range between bass lines that were influenced by progressive rock.
The city of Pittsburgh is home to one of the most defining examples of the math rock genre: the four-piece instrumental band Don Cabellero. Formed in 1991 after the breakup of Sludgehammer, “Don Cab” as the group is affectionately known, blends heavy noise rock sounds with avant-garde jazzy influences. Like many other bands in the style, Don Caballero’s members despise the “math rock” label applied to them by critics. Even so, it should come as no surprise that a temporary bass player Matt Jencik, a member of another former Pittsburgh math rock band, Hurl, also spent time in Don Caballero.
Areas such as San Diego, D.C., The South, and even Toronto/Windsor Ontario have math rock groups that have helped build up this lesser known genre.
As always, let me know what you think. It’s a genre that is new to ME…so It might be new to you. Happy listening!