Math rock has a reputation for being a bit impenetrable and hard to understand – and maybe that’s a reputation well deserved, given its fondness for complex riffing, frequently changing time signatures and technical complexity. But it’s also seen by some as a genre that’s best avoided. Maybe it’s the association with that perennially unpopular school subject maths that puts people off, or perhaps the connections with unfashionable prog are the main deterrent. Either way, it can sometimes seem that math rock is a genre that requires its listeners to have PhDs in Euclidian theory and prolific activity on live action roleplay gaming forums.
Punk, on the other hand, is a more much demotic form, rooted in a working class fanbase and easy as hell to get into. As the famous maxim from the zine Sideburns put it in its DIY call to arms, ‘This is a chord – This is another – This is third – Now form a band’, you can play punk, or at least something resembling it, with only rudimentary knowledge of music, and you can enjoy listening to it with even less. In short, punk is the polar opposite of math rock.
Somehow straddling these two poles are Mayors Of Miyazaki, a London three-piece who describe themselves as math-punk. This subgenre doesn’t seem such a silly idea. After all, punk is such a malleable form that it can be melded with pretty much anything: consider the dance-punk of Test Icicles, the gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello and the pop punk of Blink 182 for an indication of the diversity of sounds it can incorporate. In terms of ethos, Mayors Of Miyazaki seem to lean towards the punk side of their mélange, identifying themselves as a DIY band, and encouraging their more impecunious fans to download their music illegally.
Their sound veers more widely between their two constituent parts. However, the most distinctive part of it – the face off between male and female vocals, part shouted, part spoken, part sung – is typical of neither math rock nor punk, and it’s this feature rather than their blend of styles that makes them a truly original and exciting band. Sometimes, as with the opening of Sugar In The Fuel, where the question “How do I know you?” is asked over a pounding bass riff, one is reminded of the quasi-gothic post-punk of Prinzhorn Dance School, with seemingly random statements laid over simple but incredibly effective instrumentation.
Even when the music is relatively mellow, the vocals ensure that the songs continue to sound frantic, though they are occasionally used to provide contrasting effects. Start After One is one of the album’s most tightly wound tracks, with churning power chords giving way to razor sharp riffs without a moments pause, but some of the harmonies act as a kind of uncoiling. Dry Palm is the spikiest track on the album, and here the vocals are sung more than shouted, resulting in a well-balanced tone. Mortise + Tenon is the most melodic song, but the riffing is still fast and complex.
If there is any problem here, then it’s that the whole album feels a bit unrelenting and overdriven. Perhaps there is scope for the ratio of punk to math rock to be weighted more heavily towards the latter; more changes in pace would be welcome. But this is nonetheless about as strong an interpretation of math-punk as one can imagine being committed to tape. Mayors Of Miyazaki are definitely on to something here: Holy Cop is smart, thrilling and highly enjoyable.