Outside of the mainstream, we’d argue some of the most exciting guitar riffs of the past decade have their roots in the math and post-rock spectrum. From Yvette Young’s singular fingerstyle in Covet to the masterful looped phrases of Giraffes? Giraffes! and And So I Watch You From Afar’s syncopated bombast, instrumental rock plays host to some of contemporary guitar’s most thrilling moments – and now you can add Irish guitar/drums duo Bicurious to that list.
With an onslaught of smart octave-doubled tones, Bicurious follow in a long line of UK and Irish riff merchants, and their debut album, (re)constructed, makes for an arresting listen, filled with ingenious chord shifts and nuanced tonal inflections. But more than anything, it’s chock-full of grade-A riff upon grade-A riff, with catchiness and virtuosity in perfect balance.
So, who better to run down some of the finest riffs in the math/post-rock canon than Bicurious guitarist Taran Plouzané? Here, he lists some classic picks as well as the local tracks that shaped his style, but all are well worth digging into. Riff on…
1. Val Normal - Pugman
“Val Normal are an unbelievable Irish math-rock trio that unfortunately are no more. They were my first introduction to the genre, and I got obsessed with them. I gigged with them a few times with previous bands and would end up playing them their own songs at after-parties like a fangirl!
“Anyway, this track always blew my mind. The simplicity but absolute heft of the intro riff is amazing, and bonus points for the quieter, beautiful and melodic riff that follows. This tune basically got me into instrumental music.”
2. Alpha Male Tea Party - Powerful and Professional
“I could have picked so many AMTP songs, and probably will pick another in this list, but this one is special for me. More specifically the riff that comes in around 2:30, which takes the melody of the song’s main riff and re-harmonizes it with the classic iv - IV - I - V (e.g Am - F - C - G) progression that we’d usually hear in, well, every single pop song, ever. But here, this chord progression gives the familiar riff such an emotional new dimension, and gives me crazy goosebumps every time.”
3. Aiming for Enrike - Newspeak
“This band are such an inspiration to me, partly because of their mastery of looping. They released my favourite album of 2020, and I’ve been dreaming of seeing them live for a while. While this isn’t my favourite song of theirs (check out Spice Girls off their latest album), the main riff, which consists of a couple of layers of loops, melodic bends and an aggressive bassline, is absolutely fucking gnarly. Just so so cool.
“Simen’s sense of melody is so catchy, and a massive inspiration to my songwriting. Plus, that video of them playing it in Rhodo’s Garage is the best thing ever. It’s that video that got me into them, and they’ve become one of my favourite bands for sure.”
4. Punch Face Champions - XII
“Similarly to Val Normal, this Irish band are friends of ours, and were gigging a lot around the time I discovered this genre. This is one of the songs I learned off by heart, and would go into the music shop where [PFC guitarist] Dave [Newell] worked and start playing it until he noticed.
“The main riff in this song is really simple, but really powerful. It has just the right amount of odd time signature to it, and the interplay between the two guitars is great – one playing the riff and the other doing some dreamy tremolo-picking stuff. And once again, the quiet, melodic riff that comes in as the middle 8 section is really awesome. Weirdly similar to the Val Normal one, but I guess bands in the same scene influence each other all the time!”
5. Battles - Atlas
“These guys aren’t really math or post-rock, but often find themselves in the same sphere as a lot of those bands. The main riffs and melodies in this song also don’t come from a guitar, but rather from vocals and keyboards.
“My favourite part/riff in the song is the build-up about halfway through between the two keyboards, both playing the same note at increasing rates, which eventually transforms into a melody at its climax. The overall vibe of the song is really dark and disturbing, industrial and insanely cool.”
6. Mogwai - Remurdered
“Mogwai can be a little bit monotone sometimes, but I love them when I’m in the right mood. This song, though – what an absolute belter. The riff is just so epic when it kicks in. Again, it’s mostly synth stuff, but it’s just so good. It builds to it, the riff starts as the drums drop out, and the drums kick back in again and it just hits home, mega groove. There’s a lot of notes in the riff, but it just makes me want to play it on guitar and attempt to make a Bicurious version of it. Actually, yeah, let’s do that! Expect a cover version soon, I guess.”
7. Gallops - Darkjewel
“Are these math/post-rock? I don’t know, but I don’t really care to be honest. This song is really epic, such a dark epic buildup to an exploding finale. And it’s this finale that I’m focusing on. That absolutely face-melting riff that drops around 4:55, that everyone has been waiting for the whole time. I’ve seen it live, and it’s the moment the crowd absolutely loses their shit.
“It’s really simple, loud, three notes, root/minor 6th/octave, and it’s effective. I think it’s mostly synths (sorry guitar nerds, myself included) but it feels like a thousand guitars playing in unison. Just pure power, I love it!”
8. And So I Watch You From Afar - Gang (starting never stopping)
“ASIWYFA are one of my favourite bands, so it was tough to choose a favourite riff. Despite not being my favourite song of theirs, Gang has this incredible riff about halfway through the song, which bounces between the root and 3rd of a bunch of major barred chords. It basically allows the riff to maintain some low end with the root note and to add melody with the 3rd. It’s a technique I use all the time when writing riffs; considering we’re a duo and I need to cover both bass and guitar, it’s important to create riffs that cover both registers. This riff represents a huge part of my playing, and is also epic as fuck.”
9. Cleft - Trapdoor
“I love this band so much, and it’s so incredibly sad that Dan [Wild-Beesley] had to leave us so early [Ed’s note: Wild-Beesley passed away in 2018 following a battle with cancer]. Cleft have so many absolute bangers so it’s very hard to choose one riff. I could have gone for any number of head-banging riffs in their repertoire, but instead I chose this song.
“The part I refer to isn’t so much a riff, but rather a progressive chord progression that goes from about halfway through the song until the end. It’s such a clever and beautiful progression, using a combination of open strings and fretted notes, that just keeps building in pitch and intensity. It’s very unusual-sounding, which I love about it. I feel like the emotion of the riff captures the sadness that one might feel when thinking about the unfortunate passing of Dan. I really wish I could have met him.”
10. The Physics House Band - Teratology
“This is a weird, experimental track from a weird, experimental band. It just showed up on my Spotify one day, and I was instantly hooked. The main guitar motif is the riff in question. It’s one of those Biffy Clyro-esque two-note chord progressions with some sexy dissonance at the end. It’s played clean during those beautiful dark verses, and played super-heavy during the super-heavy sections, and it’s an absolute earworm of a hook. What more could you want?”
- (re)constructed is out now via Narrow Door Records.