Release Date: Apr 17, 2012
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
The recording of music in secluded confinement by all-powerful bedroom-pop artists often leads to material that’s distressingly predictable, full of dazzling concepts and ideas, but humdrum in its construction. The difference with a group like Maps & Atlases is that the music never seems stagnant. This isn’t a band that records live, and the repetition of looped sounds and multi-tracked complexity makes their music seem largely synthetic despite an aesthetic that’s mostly rooted in organic instruments.
Review Summary: cute songs.My whole experience of Maps & Atlases reads like an off-base rockumentary cliché, but anyway: I understand that Maps & Atlases are not the band they once were. This seems like an absolutely ridiculous statement to make of a band that has done little more to their sound than nuance it; the guitar tapping is still present, muffled under the song though it may be, and the experiments have just been restricted to compact boxes to move about in. The band hasn’t split itself down its side like it may seem, rather it’s just suppressed the big and the bold into the background to make room for (sure, go ahead and use the word) a “pop” song.
The sophomore outing from idiosyncratic Midwesterners Maps & Atlases builds on the angular math pop of 2010's Perch Patchwork by dialing down the difficulty of the arithmetic. Beware and Be Grateful's success lies in the group's ability to make its many quirks accessible, and while there are plenty of cerebral moments to be found, there's a warm organic center to each track that ultimately wins out. Bookended by its two most affecting cuts, the sneaky TV on the Radio-meets-Fleet Foxes love song "Old & Gray" and the measured, stoic closer "Important," Beware and Be Grateful relies heavily on the syncopated beats, dry Soweto-inspired guitar leads, and incredibly malleable vocals of Dave Davison that made Perch Patchwork such an intriguing, and occasionally polarizing, experience.
Since when is it a sin to be both artful and catchy? On Beware and Be Grateful, their sophomore full-length, oft-lauded Chicago math-rock quartet Maps & Atlases have suffered the slings and arrows of heavy criticism for their forward-thinking approach. Some have complained about the album’s newfound slickness, claiming the band’s technical eccentricities have been smoothed over by studio gloss. Others have bemoaned their ever-expanding fondness for multi-cultural riffs.
Seventeen years ago, Alanis Morissette taught me (and the rest of the developed world) what irony is. It’s a black fly in white wine. It’s not having a knife when the world is trying to spoon you. Andseventeen years later, it’s hearing a band called Maps & Atlases underachieve due to a pronounced lack of direction and destination.
Maps & AtlasesBeware and Be Grateful[Barsuk; 2012]By Brendan Frank; April 16, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGWith their first few EPs, Maps & Atlases made quick work of reconciling their competing musical elements. They had a number of weapons in their arsenal and they knew when and how to deploy them. From idiosyncratically rendered percussion, to devilish guitars, and a growing adoration for world-oriented music, their music displayed an uncanny sense of place.
Two years after the release of their debut ‘Perks And Patchwork’, Chicago’s Maps & Atlases are back with an energetic collection of intelligent pop. This time around, the band’s obsession with complex rhythms is channelled though layers and layers of melody. ‘Old And Grey’ builds multi-tracked vocals into an off-kilter beat up to a hammering, plaintive finale.
Here’s a cold, hard fact: musicians don’t get points for effort. If that was the case, Battles would be bigger than Oasis ever were, Chinese Democracy would have been frickin’ amazing and the charts would be dominated, not by singers who made it through a few rounds of a TV talent show, but by bands who’ve, say, written some songs and played some gigs. If we lived in that world, this would be a very different article, because Maps & Atlases have clearly spent countless hours sweating over samplers and effects boards to make this, their second album.
Beware and Be Grateful sounds nice, but is that enough? For Chicago’s Maps & Atlases, the answer is mostly no. Their second LP finds the four piece making a play for the big time. “The further from the edges the further from the trim/The fewer the coats the less you put in.” These opening lyrics on lead track “Old and Gray” encapsulate the album’s focus as sung by lead singer Dave Davison.
Don’t believe what the cynics tell you: Embracing pop appeal doesn’t have to mean abandoning experimentalism. It’s one thing to eschew individuality for accessibility’s sake—that’s what we call “selling out.” But it’s another matter entirely when a talented experimental band chooses to take a more direct approach with its songwriting and throws some hooks in with the risk-taking. Beware And Be Grateful, the latest effort by pigeonholing-proof Chicagoans of Maps And Atlases, proves this point quite eloquently, expertly fusing the complex rock of the band’s early EPs with elegant, polished pop.Beware‘s centerpiece, “Silver Self,” is all the proof you need.
Two years after their debut LP ‘Perch Patchwork’, Maps & Atlases are back with ‘Beware & Be Grateful’, an album with a title that appropriately sums up how you should approach it. Opener ‘Old And Gray’ is full of promise, from its textured vocals to a powerful piano-filled coda over which Dave Davison sings, “When you are old and grey / I hope that someone holds you like I would. ” The song seamlessly slides into ‘Fever’; quite a feat considering that the latter is a more tropical affair.
Lush layers and intricate production meet the most straightforward songwriting yet out of the Maps and Atlases camp. Bouncing from tracks that sound closer to TV on the Radio ("Old and Gray") and Top 40 radio hits ("Winter," "Bugs") than anything off their debut, the Chicago, IL-based quartet have done everything to shed the somewhat confusing math rock moniker from their name. "Old and Gray" opens the ten-track record with beautifully placed background vocals and engaging drum tracks, letting vocalist Dave Davison draw listeners in with his inviting melodies.