"Angular" has to be one of the more interesting adjectives so often found in music reviews; not only in reviews of rock artists, it's also a favorite when discussing modern orchestral works or any time Thelonious Monk's name comes up (where it's certainly a fitting descriptor). Itâ€™s an abstraction of course, to use such a very visual/physical adjective to describe something as intangible as music. Personally though, I believe it works quite well, despite the apparent incongruity of its usage (letâ€™s see how many geometric references I can fit in hereâ€¦). Listening lately to two favorites from 2005, Iâ€™ve found it to be a very precise description.
To describe a piece of music as "angular" actually functions on two levels, the simpler being as a description of rhythmic discontinuity. When the metrical flow of a piece of music is intentionally uneven, conveyed through oddly placed rests, highly staccato attacks, changes of time signature, or by the use of overlapping rhythms (through hemiola, polyrhythm, etc.), the term "angular" conveys a sense of the jagged or broken movement.
In describing any number of harmonic functions, the term "angular" is more abstract, but no less apt. Often it implies a certain level of dissonance: chords with a little "bite," unanticipated substitutions, modulations, or cadences; not necessarily harsh, but certainly not "warm." The same also applies, but possibly to a lesser degree, to tone: metallic strings and reedy sound versus resonant voices. Popular opinion at the moment seems to equate an "angular" sound with the use of distortion, but this is an oversimplification, distortion being but a possible contribution to an "angular" style. There are a number of players whose style is clearly "angular" but who rarely use distortion or use it sparingly. This was especially true of artists who came out of the New Wave era. Even a very legato player, i.e., Alan Holdsworth, playing with a clean tone can sound "angular" by focusing on the harmonic aspects like unusual chord choices or gigantic intervallic jumps.