Monday, April 20, 2009

What Is Math Rock?

While I was writing my post about music labels I became intrigued with this one that quite simply sounded interesting and did a little bit more research into it. This is what I found out.

The biggest characteristic the distinguishes itself from other rock is the fact that while "traditional" rock music uses a 4/4 meter, math rock uses time signatures such as 7/8 or 13/8, among other "asymmetrical" meters. It gets it name from its "mathematical" character.

Its influences derive from bands of the 60s and 70s such as Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes, Rush, and Pink Floyd but also draws its influences from heavy metal and punk rock as well as this "progressive rock" acts.

Lyrics are very rarely focused on in math rock and often in recording, vocals are lower in the mix.

Chicago became a central hub for "math rock" in the 1990s with bands like Big Black and Shellac, as well as other bands on the Touch & Go and Quarterstick labels.

Pittsburgh, PA is also considered a hub for "math rock" with bands like Don Caballero who blend heavy noise rock with jazz influences.

Other notable bands in the "math rock" genre are Shudder to Think, Jawbox, A Minor Forest, The Dillinger Escape Plan, June of 44, Meshuggah, and Nomeansno.


  1. I would never have thought of Big Black or Shellac as math rock. Big Black was a punk band and the best way that I’ve heard Shellac described is minimalist. Also I think of Jawbox as an emo band, No Means No as a punk band, and I have no idea what to call Shudder to Think. Granted all of these bands that I have listed predate the term math rock (to the best of my knowledge at least).

    I have to admit that when I think of ridiculous music labels, this is one that comes to mind but after what you have said here, maybe it’s not that band of a label. I still have no idea what math rocks sounds like but I know a bit about its musical structure (not that I can read music or anything).

  2. The problem with so many of these labels is that none of them really classify EVERYTHING a band does. A band might have several styles it gets its influences from so you can't really pigeon hole them in to one characterization.

  3. This particular genre is interesting though and I have often wondered how to classify bands such as Big Black and others like them because I never really thought of them and just out right punk rock.

    Interesting to know that there is a name for it though. I always called is progressive punk.

    I understand that it would be a harder concept to grasp if you have no knowledge of music theory and structure and what not.

  4. I just don’t see how Big Black, Shellac, or Jawbox have anything in common with Dillinger Escape Plan.

    While I agree that no label could ever cover everything that a band does, they give you a basic idea. In the case of a band like Weezer, calling them pop rock or power pop (even though the second one not as much) gives you a pretty good idea of what their music sounds like. Sure there are some songs that don’t jive with the label but overall it fits.

  5. I always heard Don Cabellero mentioned as the definitive or quintessential math rock band. To some extent, Built to Spill as well because they often used odd time signatures. You could see the same happening in certain Starflyer 59 songs but of course there's a band that never fit any one genre. But point is check out Don Caballero for true math rock.