Math rock is a funny term to define. It’s pretty much accepted that bands like Slint and Don Caballero started it. To me, it’s basically any band that favors rhythm over melody. Usually, they’re instrumental groups. A lot of the time, they’re duos, like Giraffes Giraffes, Hella, or Job Creators (ahem).
Very few math rock bands try to delve into the dangerous territory of vocals. Don Caballero attempted this a few times, mostly on Punkgasm. And as compelling as “I’m gonna turn you into a bottle of bleach / and pour you into the rug” may be as a chorus, most math rock bands let the instruments speak for themselves.
The notable exception to me would be Polvo, a band whose thin, cheese-grater sounds were streamlined and smoothed into the hook-heavy, delightful math rock jams of In Prism. The album is a masterful blend of vocals and math rock, especially “Beggar’s Bowl.”
But the wait for another bold and experimental and manic math rock vocal thing-a-ma-jig is over. It’s freaking Haybaby, baby, the hardest Brooklyn math rock you’ll hear today.
Haybaby a la Rough Trade
In Brooklyn, I’ve found a lot of powerful and really cool math rock blends. But I’ll pretty much go to any band that doesn’t sound like horrible crap, which is actually more of a challenge than a romanticized Wikipedia article about the Brooklyn music scene will indicate.
Finding good music in Brooklyn requires excessive Googling, navigating neon yellow screens and size 8 font on venue websites then sliding into the maze of band credentials through an Alice In Wonderland-esque adventure through the hall of musical mirrors that is Bandcamp, Soundcloud, BandsinTown, Rhapsody, SongKick, YouTube, band websites that haven’t been updated since 2009, posters peeling in the local kebab place on Bushwick Avenue, stickers on the wet urinal handles of dive bars on Grand Street.
I didn’t find Haybaby this way. Instead, I found them by going to Rough Trade in Williamsburg for a band called New Myths, a synthy 80s-ey, dancy trio that was so far outside my friend’s comfort zone that he asked if he should buy some fishnet from Goodwill before going to the show.
Haybaby was the opener. When the group takes the stage, it’s a pretty unassuming trio. But as soon as bassist Sam Yield starts playing crazy bass lines to some complicated rhythm of Jeremey Duvall’s drums, it’s impossible not to start jerking around like a puppet controlled by a puppetmaster with ADHD.
AND THEN: Leslie Hong. Vocals to math rock. Creative distortion and ska-like bleep bloops that don’t start bragging like so many other lead guitarists (coined by Keith Richards as Lead Vocalist Syndrome (LVS).
As a bassist, I can’t help but always think of the bass as the lead instrument. So when I heard “Sharks” off their record (which I bought at the show despite the obstacle of not owning a record player but luckily living in the kind of East Williamsburg environment where my roommates own not one but two record players) I was elated.
AND THEN the lyrics???
This song is about police brutality that ends with:
We can’t fix it / we can’t stop it / so why even try?
powerless / i / stand so skeptical / giving up
There is a darkness to Haybaby that permeates Hong’s delivery, even if she’s just yelling at a friend for ditching her.
If the ominous, Ring-like cover art of Sleepy Kids doesn’t tip you off about said darkness, then the new EP, Blood Harvest, should erase any doubt.
Even if it’s named after the campy 1987 horror movie and it’s a concept album about clowns and their well-known tendency to go on murderous rampages (doubtful), it’s an incredible follow-up that departs from Sleepy Kids nose/math rock territory to more sludgy, rocky shores (the build-n-scream-wall-drum-break combo of “Pig” is reminiscent of “Divine Mother (The Tower Crumbles) & “Constructing Towers” by Isis).
The true achievement of this dive by Haybaby is that it works and it’s experimental, fresh, and new without SUCKING. A tragic turn of events experienced by any band trying to follow up an LP with no crappy songs on it while taking a stylistic twist, from Incubus and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Karnivool and Tesseract.
The standout song of “Blood Harvest” is, without a doubt, “Joke/Rope.” The combination of heavy bass, downbeat guitar, and general desperation of Hong’s vocals make it a compelling dance with existentialism and depression.
“You want the best / just like the rest / I’ll get over it / when I feel like / a joke or the rope.”
“The hunger in me / impossible to feed / because we’re all so lonely / and all I can see is / the joke or the rope.”
This is powerful music. And probably the darkest, most poetic lyrics I’ve heard from an alt rock band on the local scene (clearly inspired by metal) other than Harris Hawk. With the fusion of mathiness, Haybaby has created something new. And you should all buy their stuff, not just stream these YouTube videos. And check their tour schedule.