Genre labels are fascinating tools in the overall study of popular music. Even the term "popular music" can be misleading, for heaven's sake.
Metal gods Anthrax are popular -- but they're certainly not pop. Kesha is certainly pop -- but not popular with people, y'know, who like music to not be throw-away crap.
A couple of relatively connected genre labels that have always been -- and seemingly will always continue to be -- debated are math-rock and post-rock. The primarily instrumental and experimental bands that live begrudgingly under those labels bristle when confronted by them.
We're not blaming any of the artists that dislike the categorization. Many simply prefer not to be limited by what someone else decides they should or shouldn't sound like. But in the real world, people put labels on things in order to help better recognize the items.
With the primarily instrumental, groove-loving kings of Battles making their way to the Granada for a show on this Saturday, October 22, we thought it a good time to take a look at the five top math-rock and/or post-rock bands that claim they're not math-rock and/or post-rock.
How's that for high concept?
5. This Will Destroy You. This Texan collective that has some Metroplex ties has certainly outgrown the "Another Explosions in the Sky" tag they were slapped with early on in their run. Busting out with a sound that's been called doom-gaze, their current album, Tunnel Blanket, is a kickass kick to the ass. That's especially the case once the two-minute mark of the standout track, "Little Smoke" hits. But let's just say that the band isn't fond of the post-rock label, shall we? In an interview with the Boston Phoenix, bassist Donovan Jones minced few words as he revealed his stance: "Fuck post-rock, and fuck being called post-rock."
4. Chavez. These New York-based members of the Matador stable of bands has had somewhat of an on-and-off history. The band released some revelatory music between 1993 and 1996, but nothing much since. When not rocking in a math-y kind of way, certain members have meandered into other musical terrain. Guitarist Matt Sweeney has had a particularly interesting ride in recent years. Playing with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, as well as with the short-lived Billy Corgan project called Zwan, it's safe to say that Sweeney spread his wings a bit before returning to record the 2006 Chavez album Better Days Will Haunt You. When Pitchfork interviewed the band around that record's release, Sweeney gave a history lesson on the alleged, seedy origin of the math-rock label by saying that, "It was invented by a friend of ours as a derogatory term."
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3. Battles. With former Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams providing much of the keyboard work in the group that seems to be currently carrying the international torch for experimental, instrumental music, it's understandable that the perceived limitations of any genre label gets under his skin. Battles' two albums are wildly different, yet many insist that they fit under the same title of -- take your pick -- post-rock or math-rock. Williams thinks that's a bit belittleing, though. Williams, who's the subject of an article in this week's paper version of DC9, recently said to the Phoenix New Times that "whenever we [Battles] hear music that people say is math-rock, I think we usually do not like it."
2. Tortoise. This Chicago-born outfit is often listed as the band that other groups dabbling in the same, varied sonic pool say they want to be when they grow up. While they've remained somewhat active, even recording the critically well-received Beacons of Ancestorship in 2009, they've had to operate under the hefty, damn-near legendary shadow of their second album, the widely-described as "groundbreaking" and immensely ambitious Millions Now Living Will Never Die. From the band's perspective at least, worse than being often lumped in with the post-rock sub-genre is the fact that many just go ahead and kiss their rings as the so-called Godfathers of Post-Rock. For us commoners, such praise seems pretty sweet, but not for this band. In 2009, drummer John Herndon told the Washington Post that the post-rock tag "It's something that we've been trying to crawl out from under since some jackass pinned it on us."
1. Don Caballero. The Pittsburgh pioneers of mathematical rocking were big in the pre-blogosphere world where zines ruled and dubbed memorex cassettes were the primary mode of getting to know about bands that the radio didn't play. Aforementioned current Battles member Ian Williams wasn't a fan of the math-rock label when he was in Don Cab, and neither was innovative and slightly crazy drummer Damon Che. Many look to Che's drumming as the key component of what made the group's sound dynamic and different enough to where it required a label above and beyond simple "punk" or "instrumental" tags. In a 2006 interview with the band's hometown paper, Che is rather defiant as he says that the group has "outlived so many different labels that people have put on us. You want to say we're jazzy? Go ahead and say we're jazzy. You want to say we're math metal? Go ahead and say that. We're probably going to outlive the label you put on us because we've done it so many times before."