|Photo by: Provided|
Key Tracks: "Old and Gray," "Remote and Dark Years," "Important"
It’s said that opposites attract. In the space where math rock and pop-rock meet, there you will find Maps & Atlases’s latest release: Beware and Be Grateful.
When Maps & Atlases first came on the scene with their 2006 EP Tree, Swallows, Houses, few, not even the throw-in-a-few-more-hyphens crowd, knew quite how to classify them.
The math influences were clear, especially in those days, yet at the same time there was something very un-mathy in their sound, particularly in their lyrics. No one dared called it pop. Not yet.
Things got even more confusing with the release of their debut full-length Perch Patchwork in 2010. That time the critics--and I suspect the hyphen crowd had a role in this--came up with a term: “freak-folk.” The term left a lot to be desired.
I’m afraid Beware and Be Grateful does no better in lending itself to easy classification but it does a great job at picking up where Perch Patchwork left off, solidifying its position as the latest incarnation of Maps & Atlases’s ever evolving sound.
The record opens with “Old and Gray,” which turns out to be a good microcosm of the album as a whole. The first noticeable thing after the opening notes are the vocals. Dave Davison, the voice of Maps & Atlases, has perhaps one of the most original vocal styles in current music and it shows on this recording as it did before. The manufactured harmonies somehow have an overwhelming quality of authenticity.
The next thing you notice is the music--irregular rhythmic structures disjointed though looping melodies, with math elements through and through.
Finally, the lyrics. “Old and Gray” is a break-up song. “When you are old and gray, / I hope that someone holds you, / The way that I would.” “Old and Gray” is, at least lyrically, a pop song. Go ahead and start adding the hyphens.
“Old and Gray” blends flawlessly into the upbeat “Fever” and the album continues along this unclassifiable but cohesive trajectory. This keeps things interesting and, quite frankly, keeps Beware and Be Grateful listenable.
“Remote and Dark Years,” for instance, has all the makings of a great love song but, rest assured indie kids, Maps & Atlases’s creative prowess keeps the track from falling into the pop void. It’s the kind of track where a few notes mean the difference between “I’ve heard that before” and the much more desirable, “I’ve felt that before.”
Beware and Be Grateful represents, not a departure from, but, a continuation of Maps & Atlases’s sound. Fans of the group will be pleased mostly. And given the poppy quality, the band can likely expect a new group of listeners from the masses.
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