Math Rock

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

Math rock is a subgenre of alternative rock that first materialized in the early 90s, characterized by unusual time signatures, atypical rhythms (stopping and starting are common), angular melodies, and dissonance. The genre is influenced by prog rock, hardcore, jazz, and experimental composers such as Steve Reich and John Cage. It usually only features guitar, bass, and drums, with vocals not being a priority.

The genre started in several different places - Chicago had Bastro and Shellac (a Steve Albini project), for example, while Pittsburgh sported Don Caballero, San Diego had Antioch Arrow and Drive Like Jehu, and Washington DC offered Shudder to Think and Jawbox. Other places had groups as well, such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Polvo and Louisville featured math rock/post-rock legends Slint, who released the classic album Spiderland in 1991. New York also sported math rock pioneers Chavez.

Math rock is closely related to post-rock, but starting around the mid-90s and especially prevalent come the new millennium, the two genres diverged; math rock is often more punk-influenced and disjointed, whereas post-rock leans more towards fluid soundscapes.

The genre is still alive today, with bands such as Hella, Tera Melos, Giraffes? Giraffes!, Lite, Knot Feeder, Sleeping People, June of 44, Rodan, The For Carnation, and probably a million other bands offering new music.

Bands that are generally considered to be math rock include:

Tropes Common In Math Rock:

  • Epic Rocking: Not uncommon in the genre- "Washer" and "Good Morning Captain" by Slint are good examples (8:50 and 7:40, respectively). Some bands (Rodan, Polvo, A Minor Forest and Don Caballero to name a few) have songs that go over the ten minute mark.
    • Miniscule Rocking: On the the other hand, very short songs or song fragments are common as well. Sometimes on the same albums as the very long ones. Shorter songs tend to be Hardcore Punk-influenced.
  • Harsh Vocals: When bands even have vocals at all, it's not uncommon for them to alternate between screaming or shouting and Perishing Alt Rock Voice and spoken passages.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Common.
  • Instrumentals: Many bands have at least a few of these, and some (such as Don Caballero) are basically completely instrumental.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Often hard to place due to the constantly-shifting dynamics often in place, but it can be anywhere from 3-4 (The For Carnation) up to maybe 7-8 (Crain, Craw) and anywhere in between. Again, different sections of the same song may be far apart on the scale.
  • Perishing Alt Rock V Oice: Common in the genre, but not universal.
  • Post-Hardcore: Often considered to be either a subgenre or a derivative of this, so there's considerable overlap between the two genres.
  • Post-Rock: The other genre it often overlaps with. Slint in particular are a good example of a band who qualify as both, and there several others.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Another common vocal approach. Spiderland by Slint has several good examples, as does Rusty by Rodan, and many other bands have followed suit.
  • Subdued Section: A common dynamic device in the genre. Some songs have more than one!
  • Trope Codifier: Probably Slint, particularly Spiderland. However, Shellac, Crain, Rodan, Polvo and Chavez did a lot to cement the concept of the genre in the Indie Rock fanbase's minds as well.
  • Uncommon Time: Very common, to the point of being considered a defining characteristic of the genre.
  • Ur-Example: No Means No are an obvious antecedant to the genre, but aren't usually considered part of it proper, and predate bands like Slint, Crain, Dazzling Killmen and Bastro by a number of years.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Frequently.