Protractor Power | Music | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press | Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984. Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.


Protractor Power

Form of Rocket drop science on math rock and the genius of Rush.



Good morning, class. Today we’ll be learning about math rock, with guest speakers Form of Rocket, a four-piece “math rock” band named for the Wonder Twins cartoon catchphrase. Their super debut, Se Puede Despedir A Todos, released this month, is a grand collection of angular, mostly instrumental songs with killer names like “Guardians of the Ass Fortress,” “Danger Snake” and “My Name Is a Killing Word.” Now, class, would anyone like to explain just what math rock is? Billy?

“Is it when you play a guitar with a protractor?”

No, Billy, it’s a structurally complex variation on rock & roll. Instead of the classic 4/4, or “straight four,” time signature and verse-chorus structure, math-rock bands employ instrumental acrobatics, odd time signatures such as 7/4 and 12/8 (one might jokingly refer to these as “logi-rhythms”). Often, verses and choruses—sometimes, even vocals—are flushed down the crapper. So, can anyone tell me the square root of an Em7#9 chord? No one? Well, let’s allow Form of Rocket bassist Ben Dodds a crack at it.

“Em or ‘emotional metal’ to the 7th power and #9 to signify the 9th wave or generation of carbon-based rock. If you break it down, the proportions are so terribly watered down, all we can do is make a desperate stab in the dark. But our organization believes the importance lies more in the lunge forward than the actual plunge of knife to flesh, if you will. These are all calculations of ordinary dillusion. Hmmm, ymhuh, yes, umhuh.”

Your parents must be proud of such a sublime bullshitter. What exactly is “dillusion?” The truth is, one cannot divine the square root of a chord. Trick question. Some guest speaker. Perhaps another member of your “organization” would care to define math rock? How about guitarist Curtis Jenson, since guitarists are truly learned. Curtis, could math rock be progressive rock—that is, the sonic output of Dream Theater, Kansas, Rush, Yes, et al—dressed up for the indie set?

“Who knows? To me, it’s just rock music that’s structurally complicated. People come up with [these subgenres] to give rock music some sort of categorical structure. As far as a prog-rock makeover for the indie set, I think that’s valid, but only in terms of math as an adjective rather than a category. Some of these mathy ‘indie’ bands are doing stuff that is, for lack of a better term, more tasteful. Shellac, Trans Am, Don Caballero, The Oxes, New Brutalism and Check Engine … they’re relevant. Prog rock isn’t so much. But, relevant or not, Rush rules.”

Yes, yes—mad props to Rush. But given that “math” is a convenient subgenre and adjective, would Form of Rocket refute its application to their sound? Yes, other guitarist Peter Makowski?

“To be honest, I haven’t spent much time trying to categorize our music. We are a rock band that loves to play rock & roll. I guess we leave it up more to the listener and let the music speak for itself—we really don’t care. Call it whatever you want, to us it’s just rock music. Did I mention that Rush rules? We wanna tour with Rush.”

Yes, and I notice you’ve carved it into Billy’s desk. A gold star to you, sir. And I would support your non-categorization of your sound, inasmuch as Se Puede Despedir A Todos is a fine collection of guitar-based rock tunes that just so happen to bear certain intricacies. Now, it appears we are running out of time, but we have yet to hear from drummer Tyler Smith. How about an overview of Form of Rocket’s creative process?

“Most of the time, one of us will have an idea, then we sort of rock on that for a while. The thing is to try and keep the basic structure very simple. We really listen to the songs to see if they flow well. If none of that works, we have Geddy Lee come in and write it for us.”