Atonal and arrhythmic, just as no-wave deviated from punk-revolutionary rock’s tendencies into atonal and arrhythmic, so did math-rock deviate from hardcore’s basic qualities — speed, precision, volume— and use them in new ways. Math-rockers, in contrast to no-wave, emphasised technical mastery over musical expertise. The early-’90s trend featured angular guitar, stop-start rhythms, and compositions constructed from shards of sound. Here are five albums that helped shape the complex calculus of the genre.
It is the Bastro dubbed “Diablo Guapo” (1989)
During the 1990s, David Grubbs and John McEntire would like both experiments with introspective, chin-scratching sound in Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. Despite this, the couple remained true to their punk roots in the 1980s. Saxophonist Clark Johnson (who would later establish Slint) and drummer Grubbs both got their start in hard rock bands with Squirrel Bait. To create an exhilarating type of post-hardcore that relies heavily on frantic rhythms, crazy metres, and absurd stop-on a dime precision, the three musicians collaborated with Johnny Mac. When the band’s debut album came out in 1989, no one had ever heard the term “math rock.” On the other hand, Diablo Guapo is the first authentic example of this subgenre in action.
Burner, the Family’s Main Income Provider
Merge assembled this Virginia’s Breadwinner singles collection after the band had disbanded. Math-rock pioneers Interpol had already built a reputation as a seminal and definitive exemplar of the genre. They used their conventional power-trio instruments — guitar, bass, and drums — as weapons, at times with parrying, rapier accuracy and others as blunt as a bludgeon. In their multi-meter compositions, there is a ridiculous amount of detail. Breadwinner sound like a band playing in unison at times, as if they were interconnecting pieces of machinery. Sometimes they sound like three guys trying to play three different songs simultaneously.
“Don Caballero 2,” the sequel to Don Caballero
Don Caballero is unbeatable in math rock; they are final exemplars, the beginning and finish, the geekiest of the geeks. Among the members of Don Cab, as the kids called them, were Ian Williams and Damon Che, a drummer powerhouse whose everywhere-at-once playing suggested, to listeners at home, that he probably had extra arms. They were not just guys who could play; their four “classic lineup” albums from 1993 to 2000 were masterpieces of punk-rock purity mixed with ambient discomfort. The extended lengths of noise, drone, discord and strangeness in Don Caballero 2 make it a mood composition more than anything else.
‘Films’ of a lighter hue
A slew of experimental Japanese bands has influenced Math-rock during the past two decades. It’s not a secret that Lite are fans of math-rock and post-rock, but they’re not ashamed to admit it. Math-rock fans are in awe of the Tokyo foursome, despite their preference for quiet-to-loud swells and ‘atmospheric’ aim. Interlocking patterns by Nobuyuki Takeda and Kozo Kusumoto generate brilliant harmonies and vibrant polyrhythms over a rhythm section that never drops non-4/4 notes. There is a more pleasant than provocative effect here, unlike many other bands here.
“In Advance of the Broken Arm” by Marnie Stern (2007)
On her debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm, Marnie Stern’s guitar licks made more sense than they did in her live performances. Hella drummer Zach Hill collaborated on the LP, which is completely frenzied and dizzyingly complicated; there are splashes of guitar over shifting compositional canvases and slam-bang drumming. As a result of the success of Ponytail and Nisennenmondai’s popularity outside of Japan, math rock’s hyper-masculine past gave way to a less gender-specific present in 2007.