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Maps & Atlases – Beware And Be Grateful

Emily Jackett


Beware and Be Grateful is exactly how I feel about Maps & Atlases second full length album, to be released by Barsuk on April 17, 2012. I approached wary of the dreaded Sophomore Slump, afraid that my admiration of their 2010 debut Perch Patchwork would be setting me up for a fall. The Chicago based indie quartet produce a distinct brand of ‘asymmetrical pop’; Punchy, rhythmically complex pop songs, eclectic and experimental, with hymnal harmonies driven by the distinct vocals of Dave Davison.The album is upbeat and super – catchy, while maintaining the distinct and difficult to define sound which was laid down in Perch Patchwork; Beware and Be Grateful is a natural progression from their debut. Both albums were recorded with producer Jason Cupp (Finch, Nurses, Good Old War), but the new album takes on a cleaner sound, moving further into a denser, pop structure, with nods to world music rhythms and 80’s retro sounds.

The album relies heavily on repetition but is still intricate and unpredictable. The sparse intro to the opening track, Old & Gray, builds quickly in to catchy, complexity. The track order is well thought out, guitar line threads sewn from one song to the next, tying the whole album together to make one great pop anthem for the hipster youth. Despite elaborate instrumental compositions, the focus is very much on vocals, making full use of Davison’s unique chords which are difficult to liken, think of Cat Stevens eating a kazoo, but in a good way.

The band has released quite an abstract trailer for the album, more of a film trailer, (which you can see below) featuring Remote and Dark years, a well and truly cheesy 80’s intro swiftly lifts and leaves you with a catchy hook, wanting more. Lyrics are both sung and spoken, with forceful, ever present backing vocals which bounce between the rhythmic base of guitar & keys to overlap with Davison’s forefront vocals, giving songs an engaging, intelligent dimensionality; Pushed further by Bassist, Shiraz Dada who is more than worth mention, this is definitely not a laptop speaker affair.

At 6 minutes and 31 seconds long, Silver Self acts a centre piece for the album, building up to display their tight, frenetic musicality. It ends in an epic guitar solo, but the best part is the backing vocals which sound like they’ve been wound back into a cassette tape with a pencil. Bugs is a fast paced playful piece, soaked in poly-rhythms and math-rock, I can’t listen to it without thinking of Sonic The Hedgehog. If you fancy Vampire Weekend, Minus The Bear, Fleet Foxes – Maps & Atlases, while boasting differences, will no doubt float your boat.

Beware & Be Grateful is a definite success. The more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it. Maps & Atlases have very effectively moulded their interesting music and sound experimentations in to incredibly tight pop songs with engaging, exciting rhythms and elaborate melodies and harmonies.