A glance into the strange world of the math rock subgenre
THE SANTA CLARA
September 29, 2016
Music publications of late would have you scared for the future of rock music, making it out as a genre with no room for exploration. The Guardian once asked its readers if guitar music was on the way out. Billy Corgan and Gene Simmons, members of the Smashing Pumpkins and KISS, respectively, have both declared it to be dead. But is this really the case?
Far from it. In fact, rock and guitar music could actually be facing a new renaissance of sorts with the burgeoning subgenre of math rock.
Simply put, the subgenre is defined by its complex rhythmic structures. In most music, there’s a basic eight count beat or 4/4 time signature present, which is the comfortable pocket pacing for music that we are all familiar with, along with assonant chord progressions such as C G Am F
Math rock, on the other hand, discards the typical music structure for the most part, in favor of nontraditional time signatures, awkward pauses, technicalities and dissonance.
These stylistic decisions were influenced by bands that never took towards pleasing the masses, such as Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, Black Flag and various jazz artists. This strange combination of progressive rock and jazz—along with some of the most punk bands to ever come out of the DIY movement— has created a genre that is incredibly flexible and distinctive.
While math rock has flown mostly under the radar, Northern California is definitely no stranger to the subgenre. The band Hella is based out of Sacramento and encapsulates all of the standards of math rock—occasionally even traversing into even weirder territory.
Most bands construct some level of musical harmony, but Hella throws away the rules in favor of what pleases them, emphasizing the punk aspect of math rock and integrating heavy sampling and noise. Although their music is grating to the ears at first, a couple of listens will surely convince any doubters of their greatness.
The group Floral also has roots in NorCal, hailing from the Bay Area’s Los Altos Hills. Yet this up-and-coming group is far from small— they recently just went international and embarked on their biggest tour yet, a month-long trip to the United Kingdom.
Floral is more pop-esque than others in the genre, giving less prominence to creating dissonance in the music. This may serve to their advantage, as the sonic worlds created by the polka dot pedal effects will instantly bring any listener to a higher plane.
The genre has emerged elsewhere in the country as well. For instance, the Southern California band Pretend brings softer and more emotional music to the math rock genre. Combining faint, high-pitched singing with an ethereal guitar, smooth bass and crisp drumming results in a conflict of feeling between melancholy and elation. Additionally, their stark crescendos and decrescendos give this band a sensational edge.
Across the country in Massachusetts, Giraffes? Giraffes! (or G? G! for short), has made a name for itself with its highly technical drumming and berserk progressions that takes their music into fantastic musical realms. Formed by musicians Kenneth Topham and Joseph Andreoli, G? G! uses heavy loop and effect pedals and alternatively-tuned guitars. The cohesion present in the duo makes wack time signatures like 13/8 feel as smooth as butter.
And down in Kentucky, there’s Slint, often considered to be one of the most influential bands among math rock aficionados. In their music can be found the primordial soup for most math rock bands: the dissonance, the strange pauses and themes, wild time signatures and minimalism—everything is laid bare for the listener to revel in.
The band even goes beyond the math rock genre at times, bringing in elements of shoegaze, progressive and emo—before emo was even a thing.
Math rock, although still growing as a subgenre, holds a lot of promise for rock music— and music in general. Boldly breaking down music’s traditional forms and sounds, math rock breathes new life into a stagnant genre.
Contact Max Eberhart at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.