Monday, December 7, 2020

Math Rock Music - Yep, it's a thing

 I thought I knew quite a bit about rock music, especially in terms of genre (though I'm still looking for a clear difference between country and indie folk music - other than I know it when I hear it). But in terms of music trivia, I can still learn new things, as I did while reading a great piece of Gen X era cultural commentary. Jason Diamond, a pop culture critic in Brooklyn, has written The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs, and having grown up in the Chicago suburbs which I know well, he offers an insightful take on something so seemingly innocuous we forget its a thing, except perhaps around election time. 

In the course of looking back on one neighborhood of his youth, specifically the one that coincided with the end of his parents marriage and questions about what could have been, Diamond mentions the 90s indie band American Football as the perfect soundtrack for driving old streets of Buffalo Grove, IL and waxing nostalgic about a time and place that doesn't exist anymore. One of the band's founders was from BG, and the band formed downstate in Urbana, home to the University of Illinois. Recognizing the name, but not being able to place the sound, I looked into the band and ran across the a reference to them as a prime example of the sub-genre "math rock." That was intriguing, and digging into it was fun.

With a strong connection to the 90s sub-genre "emo," math rock is distinctive for its unique rhythms and time signatures. So, rather than the standard four beats per measure, or 4/4 time, math rock might groove on something odd such as 7/8 or even 13/8 time, which is really funky to think about but makes a lot of sense when you listen to some songs. The songs also don't necessary follow the verse-chorus-bridge structure, and listening to it, as the song wanders its way through "rhythmically complex" structures, can be an adventure. For me, the quirky guitar riffs and lyric runs just seem to evoke the 90s.

So, math rock. Yep, it's a thing.

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