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Mixtape Primer: An Introduction to “Math Rock”

Like many genre titles, “math rock” is a label abhorred by pretty much everyone that it’s been applied to. But that doesn’t make it any less fitting a description for the complex, highly rhythmic guitar music that emerged from the Midwest in the early 1990s. Math rock grew out of hardcore, working with the basic elements of rock ‘n’ roll — guitar, bass, drums — but shifting the emphasis away from melody toward rhythm and sonic dynamics. The result was a distinctive sound characterized by sonic minimalism, robotic drumming, and strange time signatures. The genre arguably had its heyday in the ’90s, but with Battles’ new single “My Machines” out this week, along with a new record by reunited veterans Braid, it seems a fine time to cast an eye back over math rock past and present — so here’s a mixtape of some of our favorite songs. And we don’t use the word “angular” once!

Battles — “Atlas”

We’re all for Gloss Drop, but this is still undoubtedly Battles’ finest moment, seven minutes of driving, cyclical rhythms and metronomic precision. As far as Flavorpill’s concerned, it’s the single greatest math rock moment of the 2000s, and thus makes for a fine place to begin.

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