Music often introduces itself to us in the form of pop. The radio filters in your ears as a child. You learn the traditional structure of songs, the need for a chorus, the ease of simple lyrics, of percussion you can air drum to, of a melody you can sing in the shower the next day. Pop music takes time to format, but, when done right, those simple melodies stay in your head for days.
As we age, most of us start looking for music a bit grittier, music with verbose monologues (Hey, hip hop) or winding guitar solos (Hi, classic rock) that offer more to chew on. Hidden in the depths of subgenres lies a sound so colorful and inventive that most people, upon first listen, feel turned off. That’s math rock, and when given a second chance, it changes the way you listen.
This isn’t a Shakespearean dramady. We mean it. Math rock pushes listeners to listen deeper. Like the King Crimson and Genesis prog-rock acts before it, math rock takes complex rhythms in one hand and odd time signatures in the other, combining the two so that angular melodies get padded out with finger-tapped guitar lines. The feel-good nature of pop choruses becomes heightened when juxtaposed with dissonant chords. Think about post-rock songs by Explosions In The Sky and their ability to make a seven-minute wait for tension relief to feel worth it simply because the build-up to a payoff feels justified. Math rock does the same, but by toying with your expectations. It’s a Picasso painting cut up and displayed as puzzle pieces, and the more frequently you return to it, eager to solve the layout, the faster the painting begins to come together and, in turn, rewards you with beautiful artwork worth staring at.
That stimulation can’t be taught. It must be learned through personal experience. By now, you DigBoston music junkies are knee-deep in emo math rock records (American Football and Slint) and noisier variants (Shellac and Foals). What we suggest you grab copies of are records by Tera Melos or Maps & Atlases.
Better yet, there’s an easier way to get this musical education. Grab a ticket to Great Scott’s most addition-based, multiplication-heavy night yet. On Tuesday, Aug 9, TTNG (formerly This Town Needs Guns) will celebrate the release of its new record, Disappointment Island, with Lite and Giraffes? Giraffes! set to open. If you can’t follow along on record, watching these bands hammer out dicey time signatures and rubbery guitar parts live will be a live demonstration.
Fair warning, your brain will buzz with musical satisfaction for at least one month after. Is it worth it? Well, you do the math.
TTNG + LITE + GIRAFFES? GIRAFFES!. TUES 8.9. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 9PM/18+/$15. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM.