Happy New Year (two weeks ago)! I finally got around to ushering in 2008 (a fortnight late) with a new volume of “Indie Lexicon”, aiming to volumize your vocabulary, plump your perspicacity, and straighten your senses relating to musical genres. Hopefully I can do this without stealing any more adjectives from my shampoo bottle.

Math Rock

Math rockers are a lovable, slightly abrasive, nerdy bunch of hipsters. Cousin to space- and noise-rock, its heavier big brother is known as mathcore (a name which amuses me to an extent where I can’t actually appreciate the music it encompasses). The definitive aspect of math rock is the rhythm. Instead of using 4/4 common time, math-ies usually play with asymmetrical time signatures. Also, most popular music will subtly switch the signature 2-3 times in a song, while math rock is known for frequent dissonant, jumpy transitions. What this means to us non-musical-non-math kids: instead of the tune playing over the regular beat of the drums, the rhythm becomes a large focus of the music. Usually layered with this geometric-sounding drum pattern are synthesizers, screechy guitar, and the occasional frenetic vocals, although a lot of math rock is instrumental. The overall effect is sometimes chaotic, often jarring, but almost always interesting.

I’m not completely versed with the genealogy of this field, but it all kind of started out with art-rockers like Frank Zappa, Yes, Rush, etc. When it developed into a more distinct category, some key contributors (bringing an edgier feel than its artsier predecessors) were Drive Like Jehu, Q and not U, and Shellac. As for more recent examples: Last year Battles released a stellar album in the genre, “Mirrored”. Definitely worth more than one listen. Mahjongg are soon to officially release Kontpab, which I’ve checked out already. I don’t think it will stay in my permanent listening repertoire, but it fits in well with the category.

Battles – Snare Hanger
Battles – Ddiamondd

Mahjongg – Wipe Out

Finally, although they aren’t pure math rock, Holy Fuck’s 2007 EP and LP were certainly numerically influenced with their organic lo-fi electronic goodness.  Here’s the vid for Milkshake, apparently directed by Chad VanGaalen (news to me).

Of course, most modern math rock is overshadowed by the satirical genius that was 2ge+her on their smash hit, “U + Me = Us”. Okay, so maybe “smash hit” was a half-truth… at least watch it until they start singing the words “plus sign”.

Death Country

The first time I ever heard this term used in a musical description was as a self-descriptor within an article about Elliott Brood. As a matter of fact, they seem to be one of the only bands to label themselves as such, so maybe this is a bit of a cop-out on my part. But hey, we don’t feature country of any variety very often on this site, and in my opinion, the best kind of country is the macabre kind.

Death Country brings the banjo back into the darkness. Many country songs use the plucky instrument to implement a sense of sarcasm into their sad songs about heartbreak and loneliness. Here, it highlights the dark themes of the songs. The vocals often embody a harsher tone, as opposed to the cavalier twang of the traditional cow-person singer. At the root of it, it’s quite hard to separate Death Country from Bluegrass, except that you rarely hear chilling Bluegrass songs about hangings. And Elliott Brood do it well. They also throw a wicked live concert; I caught them in late 2007 at a small Kingston venue, and they created an atmosphere that was infectiously danceable and thought provoking at the same time. Here’s a sampling of some favourite tracks, enjoy!

Elliott Brood – President (35)
Elliott Brood – Acer Negundo
Elliott Brood – Oh, Alberta

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— , January 15, 2008    2 Comments

Excellent post! Q and Not U are hotness – every local band where I’m from (Clipsburgh Pistolvania) namechecks them and does the abrasive guitar, 4 on the floor thing. Also, I got Mirrored for Christmas and can’t stop listening to it. Good show.

— David, January 15, 2008

Great call on Elliott Brood and Death Country. Horray for wood, wire, & whiskey! lol

When I read “Death Country,” the first thing that came to mind was “freak folk” or “psych folk”, sorta like Devendra Banhart. But Elliott Brood is definitely more rock oriented. Also, he’s from Toronto apparently. Which probably means I’ll be checking out some of his shows =)

— Rey, January 16, 2008