100 great math rock albums you’ve never heard

Math rock has the two negative consequences of (a) being an extremely niche genre; and (b) kicking off before the digital age. This means a major proportion of historical releases are restricted to physical format, and there isn’t a heck of a lotta impetus to dig out old math rock records and redistribute them to new generations. Of course, we must give due props to labels like Skin Graft and Cuneiform Records who have been championing the reissue of math rock artefacts, and of course the loyal aficionados who, for better or worse, upload the content onto Youtube so that it isn’t completely lost to us. Nevertheless, the process of finding early and obscure math rock is incredibly cumbersome.

Something had to be done, so we’ve pooled together our collective knowledge to shortlist 100 great math rock albums that have been lost with time, were underappreciated, or were just plain obscure. The final list starts in the late 80’s at the dawn of the genre, and ends in the present where the genre continues to grow and take new shape. While we are absolutely certain that none of you have listened to the full 100, we concede that terms like ‘obscure’ are subjective and rather flaky. What’s obscure to us may be as clear as mud to you guys, and vice versa. Moreover, there are likely to be even more gems scattered throughout the math rock timeline which deserve a tipped hat. But let’s put all that hub-grub to the wayside. Be sure to throw some of your own little oddities in the comments section. Let’s start pulling out the unknowns…

top_pick Be sure to look out for these symbols throughout the list. These are the top 25 cream of the crop. Do not sleep on these records, make them your friend.

1. Patife Band – Corredor Polonês (1987)

patife Did Brazilian weirdo-punk act Patife Band kickstart math rock? It is a distinct possibility. The band were performing as early as 1983, prior to Black Flag’s popular math-leaning release My War, throwing off-kilter and angular quirks into their Brazilian flavoured punk. Their 1986 self-titled EP is an equally significant album here (check out ‘Pesadelo’ and ‘Tô Tenso’ on this release). Corredor Polonês, however, is where everything came together for Patife Band, as remains their most popular release. NH


2. Victims Family – Things I Hate To Admit (1988)

victims_family Another seminal release comes in the form of Victims Family‘s Things I Hate To Admit. A release that might even be dubbed ‘proto-mathcore’, this Californian hardcore band actively fused jazz into their sound, synthesizing what can only be described as math rock. Thirty years on, this noisy and abrasive album is still packing a mighty whollop. And the band still don’t use an apostrophe in their name. That’s punk rock, friends. NH

3. Sabot – Surface Tension (1989)

sabot One of the first acts in the ‘noisy two-piece’ dynasty, Sabot‘s unique serving of technical bass and drum fury can be traced all the way back to 1988. Comprising Christopher Rankin (bass guitar) and Hilary Binder (drums), Sabot released a couple of albums out of California before relocating to the Czech Republic. Surface Tension is one of their earliest and finest, showcasing the band’s raw style and their ability to ‘speak’ through their instruments. Instead of showcasing fabricated pieces, we are feed an unrehearsed and unabridged exploration of sound. NH

4. Butterglove – The John Morand Session (1989)

butterglove Before Breadwinner there was Butterglove, guitarist Pen Rollings’ first major dip into instrumental math rock. With the slow and steady disbanding of his post-punk band Honor Roll, Pen worked on this very brief project. The John Morand Session was recorded in 1989, but not officially released to budding fans until 1997. It is one of only two releases from the band. NH


5. Ring – Nervous Recreation (1989)

ring Cardiacs fans, look no further. Nervous Recreation, the beautiful 1989 cassette by Ring ticks all the math rock boxes and has all the eccentricity of a Tim Smith-led project. I have nice memories of nerding out over this band with Nihal of Stuck In November (and I’m sure you can hear the influence of Ring on his music). NH

6. Vexed – The Good Fight (1990)

vexed Outdated and altogether a little kooky, The Good Fight is the only full-length from Seattle band Vexed. The listener can expect a tightly syncopated mix of punk rock, math rock, funk, and the maniacal falsetto vocals of Milton Garrison. It’s as compelling as it is bizarro. NH

7. Kleg – Zing (1991)

kleg Another continental contender in the dawn of math rock is Dutch ensemble Kleg. Zing was produced by Sonic Youth‘s Lee Ranaldo, and was a major departure from their 1989 debut #15: Eating and Sleeping. The tracks on their sophomore are less deconstructed and minimalist as #15, bearing a bit more conventional structure, albeit still left-of-center and experimental. Despite the band toning things down, Zing remains an art-rock masterpiece. NH

8. Crain – Speed (1991)

crain Crain is one of the most important bands for the development of the genre, yet most people we run into have never heard of them. The band formed in Louisville in 1989 and recorded their debut album Speed in Steve Albini’s basement in 1991. The band come out of the same scene as Slint and Rodan in Louisville, and bassist Jon Cook is featured heavily in the Slint documentary Breadcrumb Trail. WC

9. Sweetheart – Well Dressed Meat (1992)

sweetheart This ain’t going to be everyone’s cup o’tea, but nevertheless it’s a solid pillar in the math rock timeline. Sweetheart were a loud Finnish quartet, forging raw odd-metered post-punk with Iggy Pop-esque vocals. In short: the Stooges with odd time signatures? Maybe. Judge for yourself. NH

10. Fudge Tunnel – Creep Diets (1993)

fudge tunnel Nottingham’s Fudge Tunnel were undoubtedly a noisy band. The guitars were overwhelmingly caustic and sludgy. The bass was fed through overdrive. The riffs were slack and of the ‘stoner’ sensibility. Yet among other things, the rhythms were often complex and hard to comprehend. So it’s no wonder that critics were likening their sound to the burgeoning math rock canon. NH

11. Porn Orchard – Name Your Regions (1993)

pornorchard We had to search pretty damn far and wide to find any information on Name Your Regions by Athens trio Porn Orchard, not least because the band were only around for a year or two. In this posthumous release, you’re going to hear gritty elements of grunge, noise rock, punk and, yes, math rock. Much like Fudge Tunnel’s Creep Diets, the album’s beauty lies in its raw energy, its ugliness. NH


12. Deep Turtle – There’s A Vomitsprinkler In My Liverriver (1994)

deepturtleOften described as Cardiacs meets NoMeansNo  mixing prog-punk, jazzcore, Spanish and Eastern European folk music (with lyrics in Spanish and English), and a whole lot of metric ingenuity one would call math-rock these days – this furiously frenetic Finnish power trio self-produced everything, giving them that extra layer of DIY charm.
After a hefty amount of back-catalogue released before their only LP (featured), a legendary John Peel Session and a couple more EPs, they split in 1996 only to reform in 2001, releasing one more epic swan song, before disbanding for good in 2004. Only now has a bunch of their music been resurfacing, so we are here to deliver the goods! TM


13. Pitchblende – Au Jus (1994)

pitchblende Throw Sonic Youth and Shellac into a test tube and you may synthesize Pitchblende. The D.C. band combined a raw punk aesthetic with complex song structures and dynamics, elements that at the time were more in demand in scenes like New York or California. Despite being a little geographically isolated, the band garnered a cult following and released some quality records, including their finest effort Au Jus. It’s an undoubtedly strange record, featuring 18 tracks wandering between math rock, punk, spoken word and ambient drones. But it is an album defines a time, and a band outside the playing field.NH

14. Pencil – Skantron (1994)

pencilStalwarts in the Indianapolis underground music scene, Pencil combined the muddy cacophony of Big Black with the sombre and morose melodic elements of Slint. Their full-length Skantron delivers an iconic snapshot of the post-hardcore and noise rock influence on the math rock sound of the 1990’s: the dirty, distortion-heavy sound and the disregard for mainstream and pop idealism.NH

15. Table – Table (1994)

table I think band’s are destined for obscurity if they choose such a common word for a name, let alone make a self-titled. Table probably had no idea that their album would be the most difficult thing to Google, but here we are. NH

16. hurl – A Place Called Today (1996)

hurl Straight outta Pittsburgh and comprising members of the venerated Don Caballero, hurl produced a cathartic mix of emo and math rock, captured nicely in their debut A Place Called Today. Recorded in 1994 by Bob Weston of Shellac fame, the debut is as heartfelt as it is mathematical. NH

17. Shiner – Lula Divinia (1997)

shiner Look, Lula Divinia is not the most obscure of the bunch. However, I worry that as time progresses we are losing a great piece of mathy post-hardcore, a gem rich in imaginative song-writing and emotion, to the past. This marvel celebrates its 21st birthday this year. It can finally drink. NH

18. toenut – Two In The Pinata (1997)

toenut This was a odd little discovery we found during our internet travels that no one in our group had heard. toenut combines 90’s grungy pop-punk with noodly guitar play. It’s like ASIWYFA teamed up with Veruca Salt. Or something along those lines… NH


19. Storm and Stress – Storm and Stress (1997)

Storm_&_Stress_-_Storm_&_Stress Ya like Don Caballero. Ya like Battles. Chances are, ya like Ian Williams. And chances are, ya like Storm and Stress. For the rest of you, this is the best place to start. In their debut, produced by Steve Albini, the familiar deconstructed math rock soundscapes pertinent to Don Cab are pushed even more towards unadulterated free jazz. What forms are these beautiful and eerie sonic milieus. NH

20. P.E.E. – The Roaring Mechanism (1998)

p.e.e P.E.E. was a considerable influence on bands like TTNG, and their mathy pop hooks and alternating male-female vocal play are still exciting in 2018. The Roaring Mechanism, whilst being in our opinion their finest work, generally received mixed reviews at the time of release. Some critics praised the band for their emphasis on experimentation, while others were simply frustrated at being fed palatable indie but swallowing prog. For math rock fans, well, I think we can safely say you’ll have fun here. NH

21. Pigment Vehicle – Murders Only Foreplay When You’re Hot For Revenge (1998)

pigmentvehicle Pigment Vehicle have, in fact, been around since the early days of math rock. However, I can’t go past this excellent release. Murders Only Foreplay When You’re Hot For Revenge packs in some of Pigment Vehicle’s best songwriting to date, with its eccentric riffs and oddball lyrics. A must for fans of Nomeansno and ALL. NH

22. Ativin – German Water (1998)

ativin Ativin‘s beautiful slow-burning German Water was a significant transition from undeniably heavier back catalogue. Here, the trio joined the likes of Pele, Dianogah and Paul Newman in creating calm but cerebral instrumental soundscapes with off-kilter twitches throughout. NH


23. Roadside Monument – I Am the Day of Current Taste (1998)

roadsidemonument One of my personal favourites on this list. If you’re looking for compelling instrumentation, something with a good hit of creativity and unpredictabilty, look no further. I Am The Day of Current Taste is a wildly imaginative album from Roadside Monument, a barrage of noisy post-hardcore with complex math rock interludes. NH

24. sabot – Go There Do That (1998)

sabot_1998 sabot again. Recorded in Potsdam 20 years ago, this is another unusual and rough-round-the-edges contribution from the OG lo-fi two-piece, parading their precision and ability to interweave bass and percussion in compelling ways. Crunchy, baritone bass riffs are met with polyrhythmic percussion, and the result is surprisingly luscious. It’s amazing what you can achieve with two instruments. NH

25. Gorge Trio – Dead Chicken Fear No Knife (1998)

gorgetrio This is the much lighter project of members from abrasive math rock juggernauts Colossamite, combined with members of Deerhoof and The Flying Luttenbachers. Dead Chicken Fear No Knife wanders freely from coherent rock pops to a dissonant, free jazz experience a la Cheer Accident or Ahleuchatistas. And everything in between. Wherever you sit on the math rock spectrum, you are bound to have an enjoyable time. NH

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