5. Slint – Spiderland (1991)

Slint’s Spiderland is an enduring enigma. It’s tricky to imagine the thought that, around 1990, four teens, writing in their parents’ suburban Kentucky basements, managed to assemble one of the most forward thinking, challenging and alluring records ever – a record that enormously influenced guitar music and remains just as genius almost thirty years on – ever not being enticingly mysterious. In its winding, discordant guitar lines, clever drumming that solidly grounds the band’s, frequently odd-time, off kilter sound and Brian McMahon’s delivery, here anxious, there caustic, lyrics grimly evocative, it trades in subtle, confident, deft menace – and it’s completely brilliant. JL

4. Piglet – Lava Land (2005)

It was not until ten years after the release of Lava Land that Chicago trio Piglet had realised they had written a cult favourite. Everything aspect of the band’s history was associated with an air of nonchalance. The band’s name was simply a reference to ‘The Piglet Movie’, which was screening in cinemas at the time. The title ‘Lava Land’ refers to a bizarre but innocuous misinterpretation made during a bad Salvo trip. The writing, recording, and even the artwork were whimsical affairs at best. And despite this lack of effort, Lava Land remains one of the most exemplary math rock records of our time. The combined speed and technicality of the strings solidified the ‘twinkly’ motif that now pervades contemporary math rock. NH

3. Hella – Hold Your Horse Is (2002)

Hella’s first full-length, 2002’s Hold Your Horse Is, is a chaotic yet complex burst of short, fast repeating patterns; a freeform foray into experimental-instrumental math-spazz from Sacto duo Spencer Seim and Zach Hill. Seim’s propulsive riffs and tapping prod Hill’s technical, dexterous drumming, all speed and attack. Frenzied track ‘Biblical Violence’ is a virtuosic whirlwind of raw syncopation, clatter and melody. “Republic of Rough and Ready” is a blast of dizzying stops and starts. Hold Your Horse Is comes at the listener with breakneck twists and turns, descending into a beautiful mess of improvisational sonic mania. One of math-rock’s definitive albums. KG

2. TTNG – Animals (2008)

Animals was the pinnacle marking TTNG‘s (formerly This Town Needs Guns) transition from its early indie and post-hardcore-leaning sensibilities to the lighter, guitar-driven math rock foray that had emerged in their earlier self-titled EP. Taking influence from Victor Villareal (Owls, Ghosts and Vodka) amongst others, Tim Collis took guitar to its most technical, producing some of the most dazzling and complex guitar melodies to date. Its concept, its execution, and its ability to mesmerize make it one of the touchstones of math rock. NH

1. Don Caballero – American Don (2000)

After the band had existed for nearly a decade and been a pioneering force in the burgeoning math rock scene of the 90’s, Don Caballero reinvented themselves in an album that has set the stage for the next 20 years of what math rock would grow into. Recorded by Steve Albini at his famed Electrical Audio studio, the album sounds pristine, with Damon Che’s booming drums taking center stage with unconventional drum patterns interwoven into crafting a signature style that has remained a cornerstone influence in math rock drumming since its release. Slimming down from a quartet to a trio, Ian Williams took the opportunity to incorporate heavy usage of guitar looping in composing guitar parts for the entirety of American Don, as well as ditching the use of heavily distorted guitars for jazz-sounding clean tones. This allowed Williams to put his guitar tapping skill base on full display, and to re-introduce tapping as an art form and compositional tool to a new generation of players. No album paved the way more for the use of guitar tapping and complex odd-time drum patterns in math rock than Don Caballero’s magnum opus, American Don. WC

Author credits

Nikk Hunter
William Covert
Josiah Luck
Kim Glennie
Tak Yamamoto
Eric Beyeler
Ivan Maldonado
Alvarro Carranza

Ali Safavi
Niall Ward O’Brien
Louis Hunt
Michael Whiteside
Paul Sutherland
Tiago Morelli

Do you agree with this list? Hit us up in the comments with your personal favorites. You might also want to check out our ‘100 Great Math Rock Albums You’ve Never Heard‘ article, featuring some of the most underrated math rock gems throughout the genre’s history, or our ‘Classic Math Bands You Should Know‘ feature. Happy sailing!