We don’t really have a thriving math-rock scene here in Australia. We have a few obscure legends such as Basil’s Kite, Fritzwicky, Piranha’s, Giant Clam and half/cut who (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) just manage to fit under the umbrella, but overall math rock seems to be a niche within a niche around here – at best, an influence on disparate genres. This bothers me a little to be honestly; there are a lot of generic things happening in the math-rock world, and it’s become tropey as hell. As cliché as clean twinkle tapping guitars and emo-tinged vocals are at this point… I mean, how am I supposed to get bored of something if I never get to experience it? Sydney’s SEIMS are maybe an archetypal example of this point as they’re probably the most prominent math-rock band we have also one of the most off-kilter. Initially offering a glitchier, somewhat noisier take on the experimental dance-math sound of Battles, but they’ve moved into more math-prog territory with their 2017 album 3. And they’re to solidify that shift with 3’s upcoming companion EP, 3.1.
For those of you who’ve ever replaced the ink cartridges in a printer, you might recognise Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and key (or Imperfect Black) as the colours that are apparently the basis of all other colours (because evidently your primary school art teachers were lying to you). 3 used these colours as a conceptual frame to tie all the motifs (each of those colours are, indeed, each of the songs on the album) and musical sections of the album together, and it worked beautifully, pulling a bunch of scattershot ideas –incredibly layered and loaded instrumentation, jazz and noise rock influences, completely off-kilter melodies and a frustratingly constant forward momentum – into a cohesive whole. It’s an album that’s so crammed that it can be overwhelming to listen to, but one that rewards an attentive listener tenfold.
3.1. shows SEIMS revisiting and expanding on the CMYK colour theme that tied together their last album – and in terms of its sound it works in much the same way. The main difference is that 3.1 takes its concept through a slightly different progression, this time moving from darkness to lucidity; from Absolute Black to Translucence to Clarity. As a band that doesn’t seem content to sit still, it’s a clever way of getting more mileage out of a concept that’s already been explored. It comes in right where 3 ended, with opener Absolute Black serving as something of a continuation of 3’s closer Imperfect Black. It comes in hard, with layers of noisy guitars and pounding drums, and flourishing trumpets ushering in the insanity fast. It soon gives way to a fast, groovy, Battles-esque riff which is soon rhythmically off-put by the drums before it gets noisy again with a melodic lead part taking centre-stage. It rides this for a bit before a section that is equal guitar noise and ambient beauty. And it keeps going from there, getting lighter as suits the song titles. It all comes together very well.
It moves around a lot accordingly, and this is both a strengths and a weakness. The EP does a lot in its 15-minute runtime, and because of that it can be a very challenging listen. There are few hooks that stay long enough for anyone to actually get hooked, and this is definitely not a casual listen. It’s somewhat typical of my experiences with SEIMS, as I neglected 3 when it came out because I wanted straight math-rock that is definitely not what I got. A lot of my favourite music is stuff that I can space out to or groove with, and that’s just not the vibe SEIMS is going for. It was probably the worst way to approach their music because my brain likes to filter out random noises which SEIMS can easily become that if you’re not giving them your undivided attention. It’s also part of what makes their music, especially these last two releases part of the relative few that I’m comfortable saying are truly progressive. They’re albums that really feel like they’re pushing the envelope. I love it about them but also find it a tad frustrating.
This isn’t a criticism of SEIMS per se, just a matter of my own (bad) personal taste. At this point, I feel like my brain digs SEIMS more than my heart does, so I’m going to have to listen to them sparingly.
But I’m still going to have my mind blown every time.
3.1 is available for pre-order now from the Art As Catharsis Bandcamp page HERE. Release date is Friday March 29.