Math Rock is an elite musical club for guys with beards.
Just The Facts
- Math Rock bands are, among other things, too cool for 4/4 time, band names, song titles, vocals and shaving.
- The real rock stars in Math Rock bands are the drummers.
- Math Rock fans are happy to launch into a detailed description of the genre at the smallest request and they are secretly happy when you still don't get it.
Humble Beginnings, Dumb Names
Math Rock would eventually grow from the seeds planted by the Progressive Rock movement of the 60s and 70s, a time when people smoked weed, took acid, and, in general, started to get a bit weird with meters and time signatures in rock music... This was something the Jazz guys had being doing for years, but, now it was significantly whiter and thus, more mainstream.
Now, some of those kids born in the 60s and early 70s who experienced their most developmental years during the height of Progressive Rock and the birth of Punk grew up with an idea, "How do we take the progressive and avant-garde style that bands like Yes, Rush and Pink Floyd managed to bring into the mainstream and shove it so far underground that it's never heard from again? How do we make the most inaccessible music possible? Also we have to have dumb band names."
"High-Gloss Varnish" was taken.
These bands took the concept of 14 minute Prog epics and executed them in about two and a half. Math Rock songs are dense and complex, often with multiple guitars playing in different time signatures, and songs can (and most often do) take sharp, unexpected turns. You could be thrashing along to some abrasive punk-style riffs and, before you know it, the song, seemingly, hits a brick wall and smashes into fragments limping along at half-speed, in a different time and key, making King Crimson songs seem like cold molasses by comparison.
Because of all the numbers involved in the writing process, music critics began to refer to this new style as "Math Rock." The term was typically considered by the bands themselves to be a big joke, meaning you would need a calculator to determine if a song was good or not, but, secretly, they loved it because the whole goal was to play only to a hip, underground crowd...
...And nobody expects this to kick ass.
Math Rock Today
Today, many bands claim Math Rock as a direct influence, but the genre itself remains mostly unkown to the average person. Though, in recent times, it has received a small amount of exposure thanks to bands like Battles, Foals, and Hella's drummer Zach Hill who continually pops up in every buzzworthy indie band of the last five years in addition to being in some of the most avant-garde and underground of Math Rock's collaborations. You should probably just watch this guy play drums.
It's understandable if you need a second to scoop your melted brains off of the floor.
The names of these bands, however, have somehow gotten worse. Here's a short list of seriously real Math Rock band names (taken from a respectable Math Rock Blog): +/- (pronounced plus/minus), 33.3, Caddywhompus, Cats and Cats and Cats, Lobster, Nervous Cop, Piglet, Smiley With A Knife, Sorry No Ferari, and You Slut.
Several other music styles share the same math-y characteristics, but have completely different origins. One good example is Grindcore, an extreme music style characterized by incredibly fast songs with lots of time changes, which could be considered a distant cousin to Math Rock.
Not exactly cousins we invite to Thanksgiving, though...
Why Math Rock?
So, you make be asking yourself, "Why start a Math Rock band?" and the answer can be explained with a simple analogy: Math Rock is like married sex.
Come with me on a journey. Picture Rock music as the first girl you ever loved (girls just switch the pronouns or, for the sake of the analogy, picture yourself as a boy). Imagine that you met and started dating this girl at 16, around the time that most musicians would be starting their first band. After high school, you decide that there's no other girl for you and you marry her. As the years go by, you still love her more than ever, but the sex has gotten boring... Now, at this point in the old tale you bring in the whips, chains, leather masks, and edible underwear right? You pretend that you're an evil CEO dumping toxic waste in the river and she's the naughty EPA agent come to give you a citation... or something, right? You see, Math Rock is the Bondage / Sado- masochism of the rock world. Some guys just need a little bit extra to get off after all this time... and we can't all be into speed metal.