An amusing and, yes, silly name for a fairly obscure sub-genre of independent music which can nonetheless be quite descriptive and quite useful in terms of making connections between particular bands (this is how I find new music these days - by following pointers from band to band..."If you like X you might be into Y, they have a kind of math rock thing going"). A fun phrase when used tongue-in-cheek - try also "these guys are totally mathy."

You have to have a sense of humour about these things.

In trying to justify the use of a term like math rock, I would point out that mathematics can be seen as being concerned primarily with structure, in particular complex structures. Similarly, with bands labelled as math rock, there is an emphasis on composition, on musical structure, in particular the creation of complex and/or unusual song structures, progressions, dynamics, melodies etc. Math rock can also involve sudden or multiple time changes, tight performance, multiple layers of rhythm (be prepared to experience the drumkit as an instrument in its own right - making and time rather than just keeping it) and melody, experiments with tonality, dissonance etc. The "rock" bit is due to the fact that good math rock, while being 'clever', can still kick you onto your ass with its energy.

Math rock is often purely instrumental, lyrics viewed as an unnecessary distraction from the music. If you want words, go read some poetry.

Following are some bands I would characterise as definitively math rock, and some which just seem appropriate to mention in this context:

All these bands are excellent and many have web pages with MP3s available. Try http://www.southern.com/southern/ for starters.


I have noticed a trend within math rock type bands which involves giving songs elaborate, convoluted, weird, smartass and long names, possibly as a means of textual output otherwise deprived due to the absence of lyrics. Examples follow.

Don Caballero are notorious for this and deserve a section of their own:

  • Fire back about your new baby's sex
  • Haven't lived afro pop
  • You drink a lot of coffee for a teenager
  • Details on how to get ICEMAN on your license plate
  • A lot of people tell me I have a fake british accent
  • Let's face it pal, you didn't need that eye surgery
  • In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, one may step out of the way of the charging bull
  • Rollerblade Success Story
  • Dick Suffers is furious with you
  • No one gives a hoot about FAU-ASS nonsense
  • Please Tokio, please THIS IS TOKIO
  • P,P,P, antless
  • ANDANDANDANDANDANDANDANDANDAND
  • Bears see things pretty much the way they are

Storm & Stress (related to Don Cab, not really math rock but who the hell really knows what):

  • We Write Threnodies. We Write With Explosions
  • Today Is Totally Crashing And Stunned In Bright Lights
  • Dance 'Til Record Skips Like Passengers Shift On Take Off
  • Guitar Cabinet Stack Way High Is Freedom or Gravity Gives Us Rhythm
  • An Address That Was To Skip Ahead Of The Gallop Of Its Own Sperm and Eggs And Wait For Itself In The Future: Letter To 2096
  • The Sky's The Ground, The Bombs Are Plants, And We're The Sun, Love
  • Meet Me In The Space They Stare At Leaving Their Seat During A Show
  • It Takes A Million Years To Become Diamonds So Let's Just Burn Like Coal Until The Sky's Black with Smoke
  • Perpetuate The Beautiful
  • Forever, Like Anti-Oxidants

Assorted others:

  • Stomachache due to the sincere belief that the rest of my band is trying to kill me (Rumah Sakit)
  • Peggy, you have a phone call, Peggy (Chisel Drill Hammer)
  • Look at that table and make it spin in your head (Lynx)
  • MacGyver University (Is)
  • Tooth-fairy Retribution Manifesto (Rodan)
  • Look at that car, it's full of balloons! (A Minor Forest)
  • Dear Spirit, I'm in France (Oxes)

You get the idea.

Well. The Sex Pistols killed progressive rock, and the remainder acts (Marillion and its clones, Pendragon, IQ) were rather commercial. Artistic pretensions in rock music moved into the post-punk arena. Math rock is an extremely complex form of emo-rock, which is a punk offshoot that is not punk anymore. Math rock is where post-punk intersects with progressive rock.

"Math Rock" is a term used to describe a kind of indie music which emerged in the late 80's; I'm not sure who coined the term. Math Rock can be described (as one reviewer put it) "prog rock with overdue student loan payments". The music is deliberately complicated, and usually fuses together elements that normally would not work together... guitarists usually work on small "moments" of sound rather than focus on solos; bass work is sometimes influenced by dub, and the drums are usually syncopated. The singers in Math Rock bands usually whisper their vocals. Some bands use extreme shifts in volume (though oddly, almost never tempo) to create emotional force in the music. Math Rock bands also tend to be short lived, and the "scene" has consisted (for a number of years) of musicians who have played in each other's bands at various points. Others have gone on to form a few modern chamber music bands. The general consensus is that math rock's defining album is Slint's Spiderland. Some other bands: Rex, June of '44 ("Four Great Points" is my favorite math rock record), the For Carnation. Some of the "chamber music" bands: Rachel's, Godspeed you Black Emperor!, Windsor for the Derby.

It is worth noting that, with few exceptions, it hasn't had much of an impact outside of itself.

This was previously submitted to the Silence list, and has been posted on http://www.newalbion.com/artists/cagej/silence/html/2000q3/0071.html.

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