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Melodic Math Rock

By Expert Author: Ariel Brady

Tracing the Roots of Math Rock Bands written by: jennycos1 With roots tracing back to the late eighties hard-core scene of America, math rock is a sound characterized by the elements of volume, dissonance, tightness and speed. During this time, bands developed scenes that were interesting and abstract playing unconventional fragments of guitar and irregular rhythms in ways that were precise and sharp.

Math Rock Bands Influence

When bands playing hard-core music stuck to orthodox rock just like their punk forebears, bands that played math rock were influenced from King Crimson, Henry Cow and Captain Beefheart, exploding riffs that were familiar and creating strange shapes. In a lot of ways, the relationship they had to hard rock is not unlike the punk music’s relationship to no-wave. However, where bands playing no-wave championed a complete lack of training and amusicality, math rock players held on to proficiency that was technical and actually made this a priority.

Post Rock

In US Midwestern cities, the sound sprung up in the late eighties and early nineties. Just like many of its primary musicians, it shared it beginnings with the initial flourishing of American post rock.

Math Rock Vocals

Math rock vocals tended toward being completely absent or towards scream that were unintelligible. Signature bands of math rock such as Hella, Don Caballero or Breadwinner had no vocals. The band’s guitars did not play familiar melodies, riffs or chords. Rather, these played patterns that were repetitive often via tapping fret boards which can often be amelodic or dissonant. Routinely, math band drums were the primary instruments and played central roles in the rhythmic sound of the band.


As suggested by their name, math rock is known for being complex. Where rock music is stuck eternally in time that is 4/4, bands of math rock deliberately employ meters that were considered odd or strange like 11/8 or 7/8. Bands flaunted virtuosity as a unit and not as individual players, as they started and stopped at irregular intervals. These bands produced sound that broke into new directions unexpectedly and turned on a dime as one.

The First Math Rock Sounds

Members of bistro went on to form post rock key bands such as Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. In many ways, these were the first true bands that played math rock. The sounds they made are to this day considered definitive math rock genre examples even before their music grew into a true movement.

Math Rock Band Misconceptions

Due to the closeness of the relationship they had, the tendency towards instrumentalism and the crossover of early primary musicians, it can be confusing to differentiate math rock and post rock bands and the created sound. On the other hand, the genres are completely distinct and are not categorized as one.

Math Rock Albums

Albums that define the genre include Hold Your Horse Is by Hella, Don Caballero 2 by Don Caballero, Burner by Breadwinner, Diablo Guapo by Bastro and Flemish Altruism by A Minor Forest. In addition, even if bands such as Ponytail and Deerhoof seem to be creating out-of-control chaos rather than music, these are, in their own ways, math rock bands as well.

math rock guitar

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