Math rock

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Steve Albini was an influence in the math rock genre. Albini atp.jpg
Steve Albini was an influence in the math rock genre.

Math rock is a style of alternative and indie rock [2] with roots in bands such as King Crimson and Rush. [3] [4] It is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), counterpoint, odd time signatures, and extended chords. It bears similarities to post-rock. [2]


History and precursors

The albums Red and Discipline by King Crimson, [5] [6] Spiderland by Slint [7] are generally considered seminal influences on the development of math rock. The Canadian punk rock group Nomeansno (founded in 1979 and inactive as of 2016) have been cited by music critics as a "secret influence" on math rock, [8] predating much of the genre's development by more than a decade. An even more avant-garde group of the same era, Massacre, featured the guitarist Fred Frith and the bassist Bill Laswell. With some influence from the rapid-fire energy of punk, Massacre's influential music used complex rhythmic characteristics. Black Flag's 1984 album, My War , also included unusual polyrhythms. [9]


Math rock is typified by its rhythmic complexity, seen as mathematical in character by listeners and critics. While most rock music uses a 4
meter (however accented or syncopated), math rock makes use of more non-standard, frequently changing time signatures such as 5
, 7
, 11
, or 13
. [10]

As in traditional rock, the sound is most often dominated by guitars and drums. However, drums play a greater role in math rock in providing driving, complex rhythms. Math rock guitarists make use of tapping techniques and loop pedals to build on these rhythms, as illustrated by songs like those of "math rock supergroup" Battles.

Lyrics are generally not the focus of math rock; the voice is treated as just another instrument in the mix. Often, vocals are not overdubbed, and are positioned less prominently, as in the recording style of Steve Albini. Many of math rock's best-known groups are entirely instrumental such as Don Caballero or Hella.

The term began as a joke but has developed into the accepted name for the musical style. One advocate of this is Matt Sweeney, singer with Chavez, a group often linked to the math rock scene. [11] Despite this, not all critics see math rock as a serious sub-genre of rock. [12]

A significant intersection exists between math rock and emo, exemplified by bands such as Tiny Moving Parts [13] or American Football, whose sound has been described as "twinkly, mathy rock, a sound that became one of the defining traits of the emo scene throughout the 2000s". [14]



Math rock has a significant presence in Japan; the most prominent Japanese groups include Toe, Tricot, The Cabs, and Lite. [15] Other Japanese groups which incorporate math rock in their music include Ling Tosite Sigure, [16] Zazen Boys [15] and Mouse on the Keys [17] while the Japanoise scene features bands such as Ruins, Zeni Geva, and Boredoms. [15]

Taiwan has a very small indie music scene, of which Math rock is an emergent genre that is quickly gaining in popularity, with well-known math rock bands including Elephant Gym. [18]

North American

Polvo of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is often considered one of the cornerstones of math rock, although the band has disavowed that categorization. [19]

In California, power pop groups Game Theory and the Loud Family were both led by Scott Miller, who was said to "tinker with pop the way a born mathematician tinkers with numbers". [20] The origin of Game Theory's name is mathematical, suggesting a "nearly mathy" sound cited as "IQ rock." [21]

Although the grunge bands from Seattle were not widely associated with math rock, some have speculated that Soundgarden was one of the few exceptions, due to many of their songs utilizing odd time signatures. [22]

See also

Notes and references

  1. "Post-Rock Music Genre Overview". AllMusic . Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  2. 1 2 "Math Rock Music Genre Overview". AllMusic . Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  3. Body, Alex E. (June 20, 2019). Rush : song by song. [Stroud, Gloucestershire, England]. ISBN   978-1-78155-729-7. OCLC   1088907970.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. Progressive rock reconsidered. Holm-Hudson, Kevin. New York: Routledge. 2002. ISBN   0-8153-3714-0. OCLC   45890399.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. Sodomsky, Sam. "King Crimson Red". Condé Nast. Pitchfork. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  6. Leone, Dominique (November 21, 2002). "The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  7. Stablein, Lee. "Under The Influence #24: Lapsarian on "Spiderland" by Slint!". Metal Noise. Retrieved February 15, 2020.
  8. "Live and Cuddly". Allmusic. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  9. Blush, Steven (2010). "Black Flag & SST: Thirsty and miserable". American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 72. ISBN   978-1-932595-98-7. ... its seven-minute Metal dirges and Fusion-style time signatures confused many fans.
  10. Progressive rock reconsidered. Holm-Hudson, Kevin. New York: Routledge. 2002. ISBN   0-8153-3714-0. OCLC   45890399.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. "Interview: Chavez". Pitchfork Media. August 12, 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  12. Kamp, David. (2005). The rock snob*s dictionary : an essential lexicon of rockological knowledge. Daly, Steven, 1960- (1st ed.). New York: Broadway Books. pp.  69. ISBN   0-7679-1873-8. OCLC   55990376.
  13. "A Tiny Interview with Tiny Moving Parts". September 9, 2014.
  14. "Never Meant: The Complete Oral History of American Football". NOISEY. February 2, 2016. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
  15. 1 2 3 "A Complete Guide to Japanese Math Rock". Tokyo Weekender. February 19, 2020. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  16. "10 indie bands from Asia you need to know". Time Out Hong Kong. November 27, 2019. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  17. "Mouse On The Keys live in KL | Music in Kuala Lumpur". Time Out Kuala Lumpur. August 3, 2015. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  18. Robson, Daniel (August 6, 2022). "INTERVIEW | Taiwan's Math Rock Heroes Elephant Gym: 'We Can All Resonate Together in Music' | JAPAN Forward". Retrieved October 22, 2022.
  19. Redford, Chad. "You can call Polvo math rock, but the numbers just don't add up". Archived from the original on August 12, 2011. Retrieved October 3, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. Schoemer, Karen (April 2, 1993). "Sounds Around Town: Miller Writ Loud". New York Times . Archived from the original on November 13, 2013.
  21. Amar, Erin (July 2011). "Music: What Happened? Scott Miller on 50 Years of Singles in 258 Pages". Rocker Magazine. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013.
  22. "WAS SOUNDGARDEN A MATH ROCK BAND?". feckingbahamas. July 9, 2019. Retrieved December 19, 2023.

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