Far too often I find myself sitting down to work and immediately sticking a mix through my speakers on NTS or Spotify and getting distracted by the chatting, unable to focus on an article or any task that requires me to write. And it’s clear, especially with this second lockdown and a new wave of people working from home, that distractions, whether they come in the form of social media, people - or music, as we’ll focus on today - are rather unwelcome, yet easily avoidable.
“But there’s something comforting about having your favourite tunes playing whilst you work, isn’t there?” Absolutely - it gives you a sense of being at home, and inspires you to crack on with work, but there’s no doubt that even music that we’re far too familiar with can, on occasion, make us distracted and unable to get on with shit. Fear not, there’s an easy fix.
The simple solution would be to follow your mum’s advice and “turn off that godawful rap music and just stay focused on your homework”, but you put yourself at risk of ruining your work environment then. An alternative, I’ve found, is to stick on some instrumental music. That way, you’re not focusing on any lyrical content, and your mum’ll probably be happier too.
One of my favourite genres to work to is math rock. I used to listen to it quite regularly whilst I was in college, but I now use it purely to work and concentrate. I thought I’d take this opportunity to shed light on one of my favourite bands from the genre and to introduce a new SPIT feature (stick around til the end if you want to have a peek).
Toe! Toe is a Japanese math / post rock band founded in 2000 by members Kashikura Takashi (drums), Mino Takaaki, Yamazaki Hirokazu (guitars) and Yamane Satoshi (bass). They take influence from various fields of music such as jazz, rock, folk and forms of electronic music, and then they throw it in a big pot and mix it up. It’s the sort of music where it could be VERY intense and complex, but instead feels like it’s moulding and adapting to your environment.
They’re signed to the indie label Machu Picchu, home to Irish group Enemies, another math rock band called Mouse on the Keys and more (you can click on their names to view their Spotify pages!), all of which being math / post rock groups.
The genre is stylized by it’s complex, often instrumental, theory-driven sound, with a wide spectrum of sounds hiding under the umbrella of “math” - on one end you’ve got groups like Hella, whose sole purpose seems to create a beautiful, messy cacophony of brash noise, and on the other end, bands like Toe.
In the middle of course, there’s bands which fill the gaps, like TTNG, an “emo” leaning, melancholic math trio from the UK, or the American math scene with bands like Covet, CHON and Little Tybee (to name a few), but what sticks out to me about Toe is their ability to craft music which just fits in a lot of circumstances. Normally I’ll connect music to a memory, but all of their albums seem to remind me of different points of life, it feels like walking music, relaxing music, train music, work music and “doing the dishes” music all at the same time.
And I think that’s partly down to the minimalistic element that they bring to their music, it’s a very limited, beige palette of noise but it’s a palette nonetheless and you can tell it was crafted purposefully and with intent. Like I was saying, there’s a range of various math rock bands from all over the world but there’s a formula to this sort of music that just makes it good to work to. Granted, when I talk about minimalism in music I’m referencing the instrumentation rather than the composition of the piece - most of the bands that I’ve mentioned further up in this article have at most 4 instruments, and they’re fairly conventional too, but I’m sure you’ll all agree that a stripped back group with no vocals stands a far better chance of helping you concentrate than Slipknot will.
By the way, if you wanted to take a look at why instrumental music is scientifically better for concentration, I can guarantee you’re on the wrong site, mate. But I can say for certain that there are clear studies that (plus it’s fairly common knowledge) that you’re not going to get distracted as easily if there’s no vocals in the songs you’re taking in whilst working. Like I said earlier, especially for writers, there is little to no lyrical content in these songs, it’s just flat rhythms and colours for you to enjoy in the background whilst you’re honing your craft.
There’s a few electronic artists that do it for me as well, such as Wax Doctor, Four Tet, Ana Roxanne and Three Body. You could even take a look at Khruangbin, who consist of drums, bass, guitar and the occasional muttered, soft vocals. I feel like this music is great to work to because of it’s laid back simplicity, untainted by ego or glam, it’s just plain, straightforward working music.
Which leads me onto an exciting new feature for SPIT! At the start of this project we announced two kinds of playlists: there’s the SPITLISTS which we put out every week, but we’re now bringing back our SPITMIXES, which are less regular and are designed for specific actions in life, working, dancing, meditating - whatever you need, we’ve got it coming over the next few months.
If you want to get a feel of whatever-the-hell I’m on about here, do check out our latest SPITMIX - it’s chock full of stripped-back math rock, calming electronic and ambient music, jazz and more.
Thanks as always for reading this article, my aim with this is to make people a little bit more conscious of their work environment. If you want to learn more about how you can change your surroundings to increase your productivity, I highly recommend browsing YouTube and looking at how visual artists, especially freelance designers, create their perfect environment. I’ve just moved house and it’s helped me massively in understanding how to become more productive and get shit done when setting up my workspace.
If you fancied a chat about math rock, work music or crafting a new work environment, you can always hit me up here on Instagram, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or track me down and knock on my door. I’ll put the kettle on and we can take our shoes off at the door and dance to JLS and pretend like we’re schoolgirls in 2009.
Thanks again for reading - as ever, enjoy the noise.