Monday, November 2, 2009

math rock: Rodan

On a trip this past weekend to faraway shores (of Chicago), the question was posited: What the hell is "math rock"? And why doesn't my local record shop have a "Math Rock" section?

Rather than go on some long-winded treatise on what makes a math rock band so mathematically mathy, one can basically point a finger at Louisville, KY circa 1989-1993 and there you go. Why Louisville? Ask the legendary Slint, the main proto-math act that also happened to call Louisville their home. For some reason kids in the late 80s/early 90s took the pummeling Chicago sound of Big Black, Naked Raygun and their ilk, matched it with Sonic Youth and 1970s Prog Rock (Yes, King Crimson, etc.), and fashioned their own unique take on indie rock. With precisely mapped out songs that start and stop on a dime, switch time signatures with abandon, and have carefully-laid-out angular, interwoven guitars sitting meshed with sometimes spoken, sometimes screamed vocals, the classic math rock acts carved out their own little niche that - with the notable exception of Slint - received little attention from the rock world at large.

And it basically happened in Louisville.

Slint begat, well, just pop over to Wikipedia for the family tree.

During the mid-Slintocene age, in 1992, Rodan formed. They released a record and promptly broke up, before they reached critical mass (as some thought was just around the corner). They too begat a family tree that needs parchment scrolls to map out - each baby carving out the next ring on the math rock tree.

And so today we begin our lesson plan with Rodan's only LP, 1994's Rusty. Named after recording engineer Bob "Rusty" Weston, bassist in Shellac and legendary engineer that follows the same ethos as Steve Albini, this record is Math Rock 101. Starting with the beautiful - and I mean that in the classical sense, as in "stunning beauty" - leadoff track "Bible Silver Corner", just when you've settled in for a nice late-night listening session, a dry red wine in hand, you get pummeled with the hardcore of "Shiner". Then things fly off the deep end with the uncategorizable, epic sprawling of "The Everyday World Of Bodies" at which point you're hooked for life. "Jungle Jim" brings it back down to earth a bit, but then angular-guitars itself into Tweezland (ref: Slint's debut LP Tweez). "Gauge" is a nice summation of things to this point, with "Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto" closing things out on a stellar note.

On a sad note, Rodan guitarist Jason Noble is laid up recovering from a very rare form of cancer, having just had surgery. I tried looking for a link to a donations area but failed to locate one - however there is this page which has some options to donate in Jason's name (as well as an area to follow his recovery).

So, with wishes streaming to Jason for a speedy recovery, let's enjoy Rusty.

(1994, Quarterstick Records)

01 Bible Silver Corner
o2 Shiner
03 The Everyday World of Bodies
04 Jungle Jim
05 Gauge
06 Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto

one zip file for you to enjoy!


  1. amusing diversion regarding slint: their track "good morning, captain" was turned into a children's book. yep!

    (ps: apparently posting via openid says my name is "admin". great.)

  2. two other really great early math rock bands include bastro (also from louisville, begat gastr del sol) and cheer accident from chicago. there are really a mix of different math rock sounds. some are more clinical, some more metal, some more angular punk. pretty much all of them come from the midwest, at least until 1992-1993, when westcoast hardcore bands started getting less punk and more mathrock (clikitat ikatowi was always a favorite). of course there are probably many scenes i'm not aware of. rodan is definitely a great one though, although i remembered it being a lot older than 1994!


  3. oh, and mx-80 from bloomington indiana is a really important "bridge" from the earlier beefheart influenced sound of 1970s to 1990s math rock...

  4. Sorry for overposting, but here is a link for the first MX-80 album Hard Attack (packaged with the 7" "Big Hits"):

    Here's the Allmusic description:

  5. Really love Rodan and one of those bands that made it across to the UK for a tour. Great seeing them in Edinburgh on the 'Monsters of Rock' tour. They soon moved onto other things but left us with a great album and memories.

  6. Todd Brashear from Slint owns a fantastic indie video store in Louisville - i used to rent stuff there all the time.

    Incidentally, it seemed like every time I set foot in Ear X-tacy they were playing Spiderland.

  7. Hiya,
    I just ran into ur blog because of the Smith"s - Troy Tate Sessions. While looking around I thought I'd geek out with a little info regarding "Math Rock".
    I used to tour with various bands as a punk roadie during the 90's. A band named 'A Minor Forest' from the SF Bay Area were recording their first LP with Steve Albini & Bob Weston to be released as a dbl lp on the Thrill Jockey label. When a magazine (there wasn't blogs back then) asked what AMF's new album sounded like, Steve described it as sounding like "math rock"! The word never existed before then.
    I still like to tease Andee (own's Aquarius Records in SF), Eric (plays in Pinback), and John (does art/play's various exp music/ has a bio-diesel, solar powered converted city bus/mobile show venue) that they are the grandfather's of math rock! Though they were heavily influenced and played with the other math rock bands mentioned, their particular sound is where the term came from.
    You would have had to see em during that time, to understand the context. The drummer played with his back to the audience,at the edge of the stage and led the bass & guitar through their songs like a symphony conductor. It was quite strange and I've never seen any band like them ever since.