Math rock

From Academic Kids

Math rock is a style of noise rock that emerged in the late 1980s. It is characterised by complex, atypical rhythmic structures, stop/start dynamics and angular, dissonant riffs seen by some as mathematical in their complexity.

The style grew out of the broader noise rock scene active in Chicago, San Diego, and Louisville, Kentucky. Drive Like Jehu, U.S. Maple, Bastro, Lynx, Table, Shellac, and Breadwinner are key influences to this genre. Also brought to the table were influences from 20th century minimalist composers such as John Cage and Steve Reich, as well as the chaotic free-jazz approach of John Zorn's Naked City.

Drive Like Jehu, from San Diego, which features the off-kilter guitar of John Reis from Rocket from the Crypt was a blistering, shining example of technical rock music, highly demonstrated on the band's swan song, Yank Crime. Other bands likened to Jehu out of San Diego at the time were Antioch Arrow, Clikitat Ikatowi, and Heavy Vegetable, the latter having a more melodic approach than the previous two.

Many so-called "math-rock" bands have enlisted Chicago-based engineer Steve Albini to record their albums, giving a likeness in raw sound within the genre, as well as lumping his bands past and present, Shellac, Rapeman, and Big Black into the pigeonhole as well. Also, many "math-rock" bands happen to release their records on Chicago-based Touch and Go records, or one of its sister labels, Quarterstick, Skin Graft, etc.

Also out of the Chicago area, in nearby De Kalb, Illinois, U.S. Maple, which formed out of the ashes of the Jesus Lizard-esque Shorty, U.S. Maple took a more deconstructive approach to their brand of rock music, similar to that of Captain Beefheart. Aesthetically, this may not be as "mathy" as other bands in the genre, but the same thought process of dismantling rock music still applies.

Slint, a young band out of Louisville, released Spiderland in 1991, which is considered an extremely influential landmark album to not only "math-rock" but across the underground music network and beyond.

Washington, D.C. also attempted to contribute to the sound of math rock with the bands Frodus and Circus Lupus. The latter is said to have influenced the sound of early Q and not U.

Perhaps the most defining example of the sound, and the one most deserving of the mathematical designation, is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, four-piece Don Caballero, who successfully blended heavy noise rock sounds with notable avant-garde jazz influences and the fierce non-stop drumming of Damon Che. Guitarist Mike Banfield has noted Breadwinner to be a heavy influence to the band early on. Their other guitarist, Ian Williams, drew quite heavily from the minimalist works of Steve Reich, shown especially in the group's final release, American Don. Williams has taken this approach further with his newest outfit, Battles.

By the turn of the 21st century, the genre had, like most musical movements identified in the ever-shifting and elusive underground rock scene, been roundly disavowed by any band labeled with the 'math rock' moniker. However, the influences of the movement can clearly be heard in the abiding avant-garde and indie rock scenes. Present-day bands have still managed to be tagged with the "math-rock" label today include Oxes out of Baltimore, Midiron Blast Shaft out of Philadelphia, Yowie hailing from St. Louis, and Big Bear from Boston.

A closely-related genre is post-rock, into which some of these same bands are classified; post-rock, though, tends to be defined by a softer-edged, more jazzy and melodic sound.

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