Math rock was never a genre that was ever likely to catch the imagination of the general music listening public. As a consequence, Chicago four piece, Maps and Atlases’ move away from raucous arrangements of tapped guitars characteristic of the genre, to a less esoteric sound, was inevitable in many ways. While howls of anguish may be discerned from the far from numerous math rock fans, this progression has formed Maps and Atlases into a band that is worthy of far more attention.
After touring with acts such as Foals, Rx Bandits and Portugal the Man, Maps and Atlases first full length offering, Perch Patchwork was released in 2010. Abandoning more lengthy arrangements of guitar tapping and polyrhythms characteristic of their earlier EPs You, Me and The Mountain (2008) and Tree, Swallows and Houses (2006), the album was an alluring synthesis of indie rock, folk and pop, which established the band as one of the most promising bands on the US alternative scene.
The band’s latest offering, Beware and Be Grateful, however, is somewhat of a different affair. The folk elements found on Perch Patchwork have been shifted aside in favour of a more electronic synth based sound, more akin to bands such as Minus the Bear or Yeasayer. Added to this, according to the front-man David Davidson, elements of ‘recorded destruction’ such as ‘smashing light bulbs’, were utilised for percussive effect. Despite a streamlining of their sound, this is certainly not a band who are averse to experimentation. As a result, what is possibly most attractive about the album as a whole is the diversity in sound between tracks. While the track Vampires, for instance, is a more upbeat and straightforward guitar rock song that brings to mind T-Rex, the next track, Silver Self, runs to six and a half minutes of bemusing and busy sound, underpinned by a drum machine. Perhaps the most successful single piece on the album however, has to be the penultimate track, Old Ash, which both demonstrates the capacity for writing songs that are catchy and have more experimental elements.
The lyrical content of the album is similarly quite abstract and occasionally bemusing. Perhaps the most evocative track on the album, Remote and Dark Days, opens with the line ‘I couldn’t help but notice by the corner of your mouth there was a piece of food escaping, it was trying to stay out’. Yet, in a peculiar way, it still sounds quite moving within the context of the song. In many ways, this is the story of the album, as although some of the instrumentation, arrangements and even lyrics may seem odd initially, they grow on the listener with every replay, so is well worth the effort.
By Euan Raffle