Math rock, somewhat like free jazz, and neo-classical atonal compositions, is one of those genres that has the potential to scare people away if they have not once before heard the style. There’s a wide breadth of space for variation on math rock’s fundamental qualities but the crux of the genre is often rooted in complex rhythms and a sense of musical scrupulousness that manifests in unrelenting melodies that busily persist for longer than the hook of the average three-minute radio tune. There’s an inherent expectation of patience for the former kind of musical structure, to say nothing of the particular tones and instrumental layering arrangements prone to the typical math rock outfit. The frame itself is intricate and what fills the frame is different for every group.
Interestingly, while Chicago quintet Origami Button makes its math rock musical housing apparent right from the outset of its music, the group’s debut EP, Button Season (independent, 2019), makes for a shining example of well assembled stylistic coexistence. The band’s extended play runs on anything but a singularly definable style. Yet throughout, Origami Button doesn’t compromise its favored, potentially intimidating, outer layer in order to simply include a more approachable inner core.
Origami Button is:
Carter Jones (Vocals)
Brandon Amaloo (Guitar)
Rene Gutierrez (Guitar)
Taylor Ford (Bass)
Matt Kerner (Drums)
One of the most immediately appealing things about Origami Button is in how succinctly but accurately the band presents itself in tag line form: “A math rock band for people who don’t like math rock.” Sure, this kind of sentiment doesn’t seem like it falls too far from the tree that bloomed snarky lines like, ‘Procrastinators Club: We meet tomorrow.” But, rather than eye-rolling sarcasm, this brief setup of sonic expectations actually isn’t all that different from the short but amusingly true, and memorable, ‘Indie folk, for indie folks’ tagline of Washington D.C.’s Wylder. Though a broad and vague impression from the outside, Origami Button aiming to connect with those outside of its own favored musical tastes, couldn’t be more fitting and confirmation comes right at the first set of contrasting downbeats from a large but well-defined kick drum, and the two thinner, clean toned pair of lead guitars starting aptly titled opener, “Oil and Water.”
Characteristics of Button Season individually, and Origami Button as a whole, that follow thereafter, only continue to unveil the Chicago band’s pursuit of a diverse but focused musical blend with math rock at the helm. The dynamically gentler but frequently speed-driven nature of math rock motifs take an (ironically) fast backseat to a slower tempo and more relaxed, almost swinging rhythmic approach right on second track, “Penance Permission.” However, the song’s initial hook and tonal vibe doesn’t fall entirely out of the opening track’s established sonic lane. The flexibility here is likely due to retention of a consistent guitar tone from one to the next, as well as the shaping of Matt Kerner’s snare sound toward the drier end of the spectrum – an instrumental quality suited to math rock performance, due to the flurry of rapid but long rolls and desire for clarity among all of those hits, usually matching the precise plucks of accompanying guitar parts. It should be noted beyond the song’s front end impression, it does eventually take on a full syncopated swing around two minutes in, which is followed by several seamless meter changes over the course of near a full minute.
Still, nowhere is Origami Button’s flair for genre nods and artistic diversity more showcased than the single, “Sorbet,” which provides a clear return to instrumental math rock form with a beginning that features a line of frenetic and prominent stick hits, juxtaposed over an odd-metered guitar melody of 7/4, followed by a brief but hardly invisible moment of hardcore style vocal growling (“Tell me something good or don’t tell me anything”) just before the minimal, guitar-fueled interlude – the picture perfect place for anticipatory buildup in any conventional pop rock cut before the climactic back third of a song. Revolving moments of vocal swagger connect notes through just a touch of slurring and the smallest of turns on sung words (“What you’ll say, there’s no guarantee”), which dress a lyric set steeped in metaphors outlining the universally relatable narrative of lust and sex. Even a perfectly placed moment at the end of the second verse could easily give way to a featured rap verse on a yet-to-exist remix of the single. Truly the band chose its introductory song well, as it epitomizes Origami Button’s initial wide call of stylistic identification to the fullest extent possible.
All of this push and pull with rhythm against the melody among Button Season’s track list is classic par for the course in math rock. However, this layered interaction never demands attention away from Origami Button’s other intriguing musical assets when they are at play. Carter Jones’ chameleon-like vocal inflection for example, at times feels well suited (either by natural timbre or and-or moderate manual production) to sit in front of a semi-polished but dynamically heavy alternative rock band like 10 Years and at other moments, boasts an effortless falsetto worth a guest solo on an R&B track (See one minute into track, “Another Life.”) There’s a fluidity with which Jones is able to expand and contract the tone of his voice without it feeling forced, even when fully considering the dramatic amount of reverb applied to his vocals as an overall effect throughout Button Season. In this case, the more cavernous shaping on the vocals, combined with Jones’ individual delivery across the five tracks, leans the music in even more stylistic directions when combined with the songwriting and song structure choices of each.
All in all, Button Season shows itself to be a work that projects a welcoming attitude within a sometimes rigidly built genre and it’s downright applaudable how Origami Button manage to seemingly stray away from that sense of familiar form in so many ways over such a short run time – whether it be via winks to other sound styles, production techniques, or songwriting forms – but never distort so much that the band falls victim to the common weakness of neophyte groups that have yet to find and-or feel comfortable with their sound. This is a band that isn’t afraid to embrace what it wants to be, even if what that is, isn’t following the fundamental math rock formula all the way through.
Button Season EP is available now via Bandcamp.
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