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In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that before I started my research for this article I didn’t know “Math Rock” was a thing (well, except for the “School House Rock” exploration of multiplication tables). Oh sure, I’d heard it, some of my favorite bands are or were early progenitors—but I didn’t know there was a name for it before I sat down to talk with the guys in Chattanooga’s very own Monomath.Monomath features Chris Lanza on drums, Brian Hennen on bass and Gabe Barrett on guitar and vocals. Starting way back in 2009, the power trio was originally a duo, until the arrival of Hennen on bass guitar in 2011. The fellows augment their sound with a bevy of effects and looping pedals and this combination of precision playing, unusual time signatures and effective use of modern technology suggests that perhaps Monomath is the answer to the question, “What if a bunch of engineers suddenly became rock stars?” To my knowledge none of the members of Monomath are actually engineers, but the title of their first EP, An EP, certainly supports the notion.
As straightforward and no-nonsense a moniker as An EP is, you might expect track listings such as “Track One,” “Track Two” and the beloved stadium anthem, “Track Three,” but no such tracks exist. Not yet, anyway. Instead the listener is graced with four well-produced titles: “Playing Post Office,” “Loosen Up the Reigns,” “Hog Jammin’” and “A Climb Down in 7.” Three of these four tracks are peerless, purely Monomath, but on “Playing Post Office” the boys are clearly channeling the ghosts of Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting, which is an already impressive feat made that much more noteworthy by the fact that those fellows are all still alive. Lush ride cymbals, chorused guitar and soaring, airy vocals come together in a way that leads one to ask, “How in the world do three guys cover so broad and dynamic a range of sounds?” Honestly, they’re like the Hershey’s Kiss of progressive music.
If “Playing Post Office” is an inadvertent paean to the Police (or even an advertent one), then “Loosen the Reigns” seems to be an exploration of what might have happened if Syd Barrett hadn’t done quite so many drugs. Joking aside, it isn’t that it sounds like early Pink Floyd so much as it sounds like what Pink Floyd would have sounded like had they zigged instead of zagged, which is very interesting indeed.
From there the listener moves on to the almost playful “Hog Jammin’” which is not, as I first suspected, a celebration of the work of Ned Beatty but rather a tasty hybrid of modern Math Rock and old school Prog Rock, and in the end, it is this combination of old and new that really defines Monomath and what they do.
The EP finishes off with “A Climb Down in 7,” which is appropriate, I think, as the tune seems to combine something of each of the preceding tracks into a marvelous grand finale. Prog Rock and concept albums go together like Golden Age country and liver failure, but a concept EP is a rare beast. At the very least one must concede that in selecting these particular four tracks for their debut, the band made some very intelligent choices—and intelligent is definitely a word that describes the music of Monomath.
When talking with bands, I always ask specifically for a colorful anecdote or two. You know the kind of thing I mean: the “and after the show the gorgeous woman turned out to be two achondroplastic dwarves in a wig and a trench coat, but that didn’t stop the drummer…” type stories the kids seem to love so much. When I put the question to Monomath this is what I was told:
“Well, we just bought a trailer to haul our stuff around in…”
Somehow I have found that answer to be perfectly appropriate and satisfying. If you do as well, then you may be getting a feel for this band of smart men who have managed to evoke elements ranging from Captain Beefheart to Devo with, one suspects, a dash of Lord Buckley tucked in where no one will notice. There are numerous options for purchasing their music through their Bandcamp page and be on the lookout for an upcoming 12-inch vinyl album featuring Monomath and Atlanta natives Nigredo. Monomath’s next live performance will be at J.J.’s Bohemia on November 6.