So what is Math Rock ?

16th January 2022

Covers of some essential Math Rock releases

I recently had some friends ask what I meant by Math Rock, and I must admit it is a type of guitar music about which I am still learning.

A very brief summary is that Math Rock is a sub-genre that emerged from the Hardcore scene of the mid 1980s. Some bands moved away from the distorted loud guitars and steady 4/4 beat of Rock ‘n’ Roll, to incorporate different time signatures and tempos, stopping and starting songs mid-way through, or changing the rhythm entirely. I also notice that a lot of bands use similar chords as Jazz musicians.

The term Math Rock was coined due to the musicians having to count the beat, for example,

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4 …” etc

Instead of the conventional,

“1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 …”

However, as the adage states, ‘show, don’t tell,’ so here are but a few examples.

To kick off, a band I did know, Slint, formed in Kentucky, USA in the late 1980s. This track, ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ is from their seminal second album, ‘Spiderland’ (1991).

In the same year, Don Caballero were formed, in Pittsburg, USA, and are purely instrumental. Their third album, ‘What Burns Never Returns’ (1998) is highly regarded, and I’ve chosen one track from that LP.

At the end of the 1990s, a band from Illinois called American Football formed, released a self-titled debut album, then split up. This song, ‘Never meant’ is much praised among fans.

Now let’s move over to my neck of the woods, Asia, because Math Rock is global.

Tricot is a band that I mentioned in an IELTS blog. They were formed in Kyoto back in 2010, and have so far released six LPs including ‘Jodeki’ from December 2021. This video is for the song ‘Setsuyakuka’. They play music with stronger lead lines, pop-music hooks, and make a perfect introduction to Math Rock.

Also from Japan are Paranoid Void. The following video is a track from their LP ‘Literary Math’ (2017). This album may require a few plays to be fully appreciated. A lot of reviewers feel it lacks a certain punch, but try it for that laid-back feel, or if you need to study.

The video also show the guitarist’s pedal board, a collection of effects to create different guitar sounds.

Finally, let’s go to Taiwan and listen to ‘Elephant Gym’, a band blending bass lead lines and irregular, angular guitars. This is a live video and you can see how the bassist uses a technique called tapping, sometimes playing the strings on the neck of her bass with her right hand.

For more information, just look online … there are countless YouTube videos, websites and blog pages. One person has even posted a flow chart of bands, though this will be very daunting for new listeners.

Brisbane's Hanoi Traffic create chaotic math rock with debut EP, 'kids with  no style' — The Point Music News
A Complete Guide to Japanese Math Rock | Tokyo Weekender
Math Rock Band Wife Biscuit Release EP and Live Video [Malaysia] - Unite  Asia

Be sure to let me know what you think. Are you in a Math Rock band, or are you interested in starting one ? Or is it simply not your cup of tea ? Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.

Happy Year of the Tiger

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