What is “Math Rock”?


Photo | prusakolep

If you put progressive rock, post-punk, experimental rock and fusion jazz into a blender full of lighter fluid, you’d end up with Math Rock.  Gaining popularity in the mid 1980s, this new genre has taken rock music to an entirely new level.

Unlike most rock music that typically uses a basic 4/4 time signature, math rock uses a variety of atypical time signatures (like 13/8, 7/8) and frequently starts and stops the rhythm entirely.  It takes obvious cues from jazz music (which also features changing meters), yet it has managed to create its own distinctive sound entirely.

In the late 1960s, rock musicians began to experiment with unusual sounds and structures.  Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and Rush, to name a few, laid the foundation for what modern day math rock has become.  At the time, listeners didn’t know what to call this new genre.  Was it Rock?  Was it Jazz?  Maybe, Razz?  Up until the mid 1980s, it was commonly grouped in with “progressive” or “experimental” music.

Starting in the late 80s, math rock bands began to pop up all over the country.  By the mid 90s, they had pushed their way into Europe and Japan, too.  Today, math rock is alive and well.  The astonishing part is, that in almost 25 years, math rock hasn’t crossed into the mainstream.  It’s amazing to think that an entire genre of music can remain “underground” for such a long time.  Below, I’ve included a few samples from recent math rock bands.  I’ll let the music speak for itself.

The Mars Volta “Goliath”

[youtube width=”425″ height=”349″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdPWarbdbYc&feature=related[/youtube]


Toe “Long Tomorrow”

[youtube width=”425″ height=”349″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r4yQdUy618&feature=related[/youtube]


Battles “Race: In”

[youtube width=”425″ height=”349″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDTs1mXJqFU&feature=related[/youtube]