I don’t particularly like the term “math rock” when it comes to describing music that’s rhythmically or compositionally complex. It seems to be used as a catch-all for bands that use anything outside the standard 4/4 or can skillfully transition between time signatures throughout a song. To me, math rock seems like a genre-friendly way to say “these guys can actually play their instruments” without expressly differentiating them as technically superior to those surrounding them. So let me just say it: Hank. was technically superior to any band in the Champaign-Urbana scene during my time there and their debut album Pinched. definitively solidified that position.
Pinched. beautifully showcases the boys’ skill without ever becoming overwhelmingly indulgent. Unlike other chaotic bands like Hella or Lightning Bolt, Hank. always seems to be seeking a sonic center their songs can reference, whether it be a blistering bass line, a mind-meltingly precise beat, or a shimmering guitar riff. Songs don’t stray or bore on Pinched., the experimentation is always controlled and concise with only one song lasting over five minutes.
No where does Hank.’s ability shift seamlessly around a singular groove than on the opener “Cornbread.” The strings and snare tapping through time-signatures, building towards a crushing bass line that provides the most notably head-bang worthy moment on a record so sporadic that listeners are more likely to be seen with their eyes darting around trying to keep tabs on the song that always seems to be just a step ahead. If this record is mathy in any way, it’s like a challenging math problem: It seems hard and impossible to conceptualize at first, but when you finally figure out the formula and arrive at the clarity of the correct answer there is sense of satisfaction, a feeling of having found the concrete in something abstract on the surface.
Hank. even does this with the ever-accessible Third Eye Blind track “London” toward the end of the album. The movement from shiny sweetness to the frenetic discord they added at the end isn’t jarring or off-putting, but rather refreshing, like a variation on a theme. This penchant for the unpredictable yet cohesive is what sets this record snuggly in the pocket between At the Drive-In and Pelican in my mind, sharing space with Castevet and This Town Needs Guns.
Pinched. is atmospheric without being formless, simultaneously aggressive and ambient: the core of the song always exists and it’s almost always heavy, but the instrumentation dances around that musical center so much that the result is often more of an intangible feeling than a fist-pumping familiarity. And the feeling is indescribably good.