What The Hell Is Math Rock?
I’ve always tried to be open to new music in niche genres, and it’s always nice when you come across something that takes you a bit by surprise. On that front, I was recently introduced to something I’d actually never heard of by a colleague at work: Math rock. And not just in a “hey, check this out” kind of way, this was a “hey, this is my music” connection that always makes you take it just a bit more seriously…
Simeon Bartholomew is the man behind SEIMS and when he isn’t composing for SEIMS, he takes on bass duties for the alternative sextet heavyweights Godswounds – a band that features five-part vocal harmonies, a brass section, and two simultaneous drummers (featuring the Danny Heiftetz, formerly of Mike Patton’s Mr. Bungle). He also plays bass in the improvised, experimental line-up known as Violence In Action. As you can see he’s involved in some interesting stuff.
But let’s get back to the original question: What the hell is Math Rock? Wikipedia describes it as “a rhythmically complex, often guitar-based, style of experimental rock and indie rock music that emerged in the late 1990s … It is characterised by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), counterpoint, odd time signatures, angular melodies, and extended, often dissonant, chords. Um, okay… Now given that my musical output has never strayed from 4/4 time signatures, the idea of stuff that mucks around in 7/8, 11/8 or 13/8 is pretty hard to get my head around. But enough of the theory, what’s it like?
I’ve been listening to SEIM’s self-titled debut album for the past day or so and it has been fascinating. For starters, this is not easy listening – but not in a bad way. The songs are very technically constructed and first listening requires real concentration. And that’s the beauty of it. While so much music is predicable, these songs are constantly surprising, diverse and full of intrigue. The musicianship is outstanding and the way the various parts work both with and against each other is brilliant.
You can listen to some samples and buy the album on his website, but here’s one track to check out now.
All in all, the experience of finding something like this has been really exciting, and the more I listen to it the more I discover. Even if you don’t think it’s “your thing”, you need to check it out with an open mind to simple appreciate the nuances of a niche genre. You may well, as I did, decide you want more!