Music is math.
It’s a simple enough pronouncement even the most steadfast dreamers and creative thinkers will acknowledge at some point in their musical endeavors.
That being said, most of the popular music that we hear doesn’t exactly bring to mind intricate sub-divisions and complicated meters. Whether we’re dancing or just thumbing through radio stations on a drive to work, our collective ears are accustomed to what more avant-garde artists like Frank Zappa have bemoaned as “four on the floor.”
While jazz has a longstanding tradition of rhythmic experimentation, rock and roll didn’t strive to break the popular mould until the late ‘80s–a time which saw progressive mammoths like King Crimson and Steve Reich releasing records that included challenging time signatures, counterpoint, and often dissonant chordal structures.
Artists like these spawned a new genre of music which sought to technically and structurally outshine the others. Someone along the way dubbed it “math rock,” and the name has stuck (to some degree).
It’s a niche road for listeners. Not everyone is going to bob their head in 7/8, or follow an intensely acrobatic guitar line that seems to loop independent of the band. The rare breed of accompanying musicians seems keener on recognition of ability and intricate songwriting than they are concerned with exposure.
Even in mathematics, there are exceptions to every rule. Lilith, a power trio based out of Boston, Massachusetts, manages to embrace the zany perfectionism of the genre while simultaneously eschewing some of its esotericism. It’s still ambitious as hell and beautifully sculpted, rich with undulating rhythms that challenge the mind. It just also happens to be catchy.
These might seem like mutually exclusive sonic territories, but Lilith fuse the paradox into their harmonic landscape. The end result is a matter of transience; while the music does create a latticework around the listener, the melody is strong enough to carry through the mix and navigate the complicated transitions with subtle levels of ambience.
“We like to experiment with time, but I’d say first and foremost we’re pretty melodic,” explains Hannah Liuzzo, singer and guitar player of the band. “We try to explore moving in and out of feelings and sounds without making obvious transitions.”
Much of Lilith’s textural character comes from Liuzzo’s unconventional guitar playing. Raised as a classical pianist, the songwriter would only pick up the guitar as her “fun” instrument. While her father is a renowned bluegrass musician with plenty of experience under his belt, the two shared a stubbornness that prevented them from sitting down in a teacher-student setting.
Instead, Liuzzo learned the instrument on her own. Without a solid foundation in music theory to guide her on the guitar, she began experimenting through sound alone and often employed various shapes to help her maneuver along the fret board.
These “shapes” offered a degree of freedom that the piano simply couldn’t provide. Whereas a shape (or certain combination of notes, forming a chord) on a guitar could sound different anywhere along the neck, on a linear instrument such as the piano each shape will sound the same in every position.
“People ask me why I don’t write music on piano, and it’s because if I did everything would be way too mathematical,” says Liuzzo. “It’s harder for me to be creative. With the guitar it’s kind of like jumping into the unknown, which is exciting.”
This isn’t to say, however, that the songwriter doesn’t make use of knowledge derived from her classical studies. Rather the opposite, actually. Without Liuzzo’s extensive research of polyphony and harmonic movements such as counterpoint, Lilith’s pop sensibilities would be buried deep in the band’s ever-shifting compositions.
As with any trio, the sum of its parts becomes readily apparent (perhaps more so than larger ensembles, even quartets). Each member brings an essential element to a sound that comes across far larger than one might expect three musicians to channel. Listening to their debut album In Warm Weather, it’s hard to believe that there aren’t more hands at work spinning the web.
If Liuzzo is the unconventional dreamer, then Mike Harris is the sonic architect behind Lilith’s intricate constructions. He’s a bass player from all walks, who’s not afraid to try metal, folk, blues, indie core, or jam along to some Phish. As the core member steeped in music theory, Harris fills the “holes” in Liuzzo’s frenetic and inspired guitar riffs.
This, last but not least, leaves Tim Stone. In many ways he’s the literal rock in the band’s foundation.
“He’s our musical backbone,” laughs Liuzzo. “He’s what we all end up standing on. No matter what, we can count on him to keep the groove and tempo.”
The three hit the studio shortly after meeting (Harris and Stone coincidentally played in the same band when they were younger, albeit at different times). After six months of extensive songwriting (and far more extensive over-dubs), their EP was near perfect and ready to release.
If thus far you’ve strayed from more progressive stylings, In Warm Weather might be your ticket to ride. It’s got everything the calculating artisan could want, with the poeticism, polish, and pulse of pop sensibilities to make the trip smooth and memorable.