My biggest bug-bear with math-rock is that it’s usually nothing more than a really fucking long vanity exercise; an instrumental circle-jerk where a group of tossers change time signatures a lot and spunk out the same arpeggios over increasingly ‘technical’ backdrops. If all the focus is on how granular it sounds, the heart, soul and power of music becomes a mere afterthought, often tacked on by use of a pseudo-scientific album cover or a host of pretentious track names. It’s like, what’s the point of it? I respect the ability to play as much as anyone, but if you’re creating music specifically to be ostentatious then you’ve lost me.
That being said, Indoor Cities are exactly what a great math-rock band sounds like. They approach with flair, no doubt, with polyrhythms out the ass and spindling guitars fizzing and popping in omnidirectional flourishes at the drop of a hat, but it’s never their only hand. There’s restraint here, and whilst technical proficiency is the fiber that binds Holy Land, Wayward Seas together, it is by no means the bone, tendon and muscle as well. Most importantly, the meandering nature of these sounds are always kept within comprehension, never spiraling into self-aggrandizement at the expense of a solid structure or a compelling narrative.
Much of this is down to Indoor Cities being a trio – there’s only so much three dudes can layer whilst retaining an organic sound, after all – but also because they draw influence from drone, ambient, post-rock and indie to flesh out their base. So, you’ll get your main-line bombast through ‘Serotonin’ and ‘Pathogens in Bloom’, but you’ll also get melancholic retraction in the form of the looping ‘Better Things for Better Living’ and the menacing ‘Dioxin’. Effectively, the hollow pitfalls of a lot of progressive rock are avoided, and a mercurial approach is adopted. If anything, Holy Land, Wayward Seas experiments with the same twisting endeavor that the great emo records do.
There are also some really fucking good bass lines here. The one on ‘Agent Orange’ struts confidently in the background to give the pitter-patter Parades-esque hi-hats and cloud nine guitars a real rainy-day aesthetic – thinkVASQUEZ covering The Cure or something. When it returns after a short breather, it’s hard not to pump your first and nod your head to the groove. Likewise, bi-polar closer ‘Waves to Decay’ is underpinned by the energy of the bass, acting as the thick, anchored rope that tethers the sky-bound arpeggio of the guitars to the cold, hard ground. It’s the instrument that keeps the record honest. Dark, even.
In the cluttered world of math-rock, Holy Land, Wayward Seas is a minor revelation, coolly shunning the temptation to revel in technical wankery in favour of succinct, controlled bursts. What’s particularly impressive is that you know these three men are capable of adding all manner of flash and thunder to these compositions, which makes their decision to leave them rather skeletal – at least by conventional math-y standard – all the more impressive.
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