Post-Rock, Math Rock, and Mid-Western Emo: How Are They Related?

In two previous posts on my blog (#1 & #2), I talked about “post-rock,” a particular genre of music, and offered a selection of songs that I was familiar with that I would consider post-rock. However as I have delved into this genre of music, I have found to it to encompass influences from many genres, and I have found that it has influenced the development of other genres of music as well, particularly what is referred to as “math rock” and “mid-western emo.”

Math rock can be described (courtesy of Wikipedia) as “a rhythmically complex guitar-based style of experimental rock that emerged in the 1980s. It is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), angular melodies, and dissonant chords.” The Wikipedia article continues to describe the relationship between math rock and post-rock: “Math rock shares its place of origin in the late 80s underground music scene of the American Midwest. Some earlier bands have characteristics of both math rock and post-rock, using instruments for textures rather than melodies and riffs, featuring atypical rhythms and some dissonance. The genres soon diverged: math rock concentrated on angular melodies, atypical time signatures, start-stop rhythms, and dissonance, while staying closer to rock music in sound and instrumentation. Post-rock, on the other hand, concentrated on heavy use of dynamics, creating soundscapes, and expanded the variety of instruments used, used a jazzier drumming style, and incorporated elements of shoegaze music.”

I think Wikipedia gives a good description, and my purpose here isn’t to try and analyze these genres, it’s to expose people to them. You’ll note that in the description it says math rock developed in the “American Midwest,” but we’ll get to that in a minute…

Anyway, to start where we’ve already started, post-rock. In my previous posts I provided many examples of post-rock bands, and while most of them are perfect examples of post-rock, some of them show influence of math-rock. Bands like Sigur Ros, GodSpeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Mogwai, and Explosions in the Sky are great post-rock bands, with long, instrumental pieces of music that could be described as ambient and ethereal. However there were some other bands I presented, notably Toe, Always the Runner, and American Football, that differ. They still are similar to the other bands, but their songs are not as ambient, and are more “rhythmically complex, angular, and dissonant” (to use Wikipedia’s words). Similarly, there were a few bands, notably Appleseed Cast, American Football, and Moving Mountains, that had a distinctly “emo” sounds. As to say they were more “normal” rock, but employed dissonant tones and strong, emotional lyrics and rhythms. (See my two previous posts on post-rock to hear all the bands mentioned above).

What I’ve found over this past year is that as I’ve looked into “post-rock” bands, I’ve found many that exhibit the qualities of emo and math rock music, while still maintaining a “post-rock-ness” too them (for a lack of a better term).

When I began this post, my hope was to separate out these three “genres” of music, and follow their paths as they intermixed, but I’ve found that task tedious. I’m more interested in exploring how they’ve mashed together, and the types of music it has produced. So instead I will look at one band, Cap’n Jazz, and see how that band and its members became very influential in the midwestern emo scene.

Cap’n Jazz formed in the early 90s at the same time as many other emo bands in the midwest that are now considered to have been highly influential. Bands like Christie Front Drive (Seven Day Candle), Mineral (Parking Lot), and Braid (Breathe In) all developed at the same time as Cap’n Jazz, and are all great examples of what came to define midwestern emo. Cap’n Jazz, by itself, fits right in with these bands. Its music is fast, emotional, and the lyrics border on screamo. Songs like Little League, We Are Scientists, and Soria epitomize their style of emo.

However it isn’t what Cap’n Jazz did that I’m interests in at this moment, it’s what happened when the band broke up. Its former members went on to start several bands including Ghosts and Vodka, Joan of Arc, Owls, and American Football. These bands came to be influential in the math rock movement, and helped bring math rock into the emo scene. Before I give you samples of what these bands sound like however, I want to give you some examples of what I would consider hardcore math rock. Keep in mind that these bands came after the four mentioned above.

Here’s: This Town Needs Guns with Chinchilla and If I Sit Still Maybe I’ll Get Out of Here, Algernon Cadwallader with Yo Soy Milk and Katie’s Conscience,  and Minus the Bear with Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo. All these bands have similar styles that could all be described as math rock (and note how Algernon Cadwallader’s singing is very similar to Cap’s Jazz’s).

Now that you’ve heard those more recent bands, listen to the bands that grew out of Cap’n Jazz. American Football with Never Meant and You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon, Ghosts and Vodka with It’s All About Right Then and Hot Dot Above, Tan Man Below, Joan of Arc with A Name and God Bless American, and Owls with Everyone Is My Friend. These bands, all of which came out of Cap’n Jazz, have a clear influence on many of today’s bands that would be called post-rock or math rock. Particularly bands like Algernon Cadwallader, in which you can easily here the influence of Cap’n Jazz.

If you like anything that you’ve heard, I suggest you start exploring these bands more, and using free programs like Pandora and Last.fm to find similar music (and I always can suggest some more bands). I never thought I would someday find the band Cap’n Jazz when I first started listening to Sigur Ros, but that’s where the search led me, and I hope this post helps explain how that was possible.

UPDATE: August 22nd: The other day I went to see Joan of Arc live in Chicago for their CD release party. In my opinion, their new album, Life Like, is excellent. If you liked a lot of the stuff you heard above, I would suggest picking it up. Also, Victor Villarreal, the guitarist from Cap’n Jazz and Ghosts and Vodka, is playing with Joan of Arc on this album, which makes it all the better!

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6 thoughts on “Post-Rock, Math Rock, and Mid-Western Emo: How Are They Related?

  1. Glad I’m not the only one who made the math rock connection. I love early/mid-90s Midwest Emo stuff. There are a lot of newer bands that you can hear it in too….Colossal’s Welcome the Problems (2004) definitely comes to mind, as well as A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ Have you seen my Prefrontal Cortex (2010).

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