Friday, July 2, 2010

Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork (2010)

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Just several days ago Chicago-based technical pop/math rock band Maps & Atlases released their debut full-length album Perch Patchwork on Barsuk. Featuring several fan favorites from their live shows ("Pigeon" and "Israeli Caves"), the album is the latest in the band's efforts to provide more accessible and poppy songs though its not without uniqueness. The first two tracks on the album "Will", "The Charm", and have a sort of experimental vibe due to some sonic distortion. "Will" opens the album with a sort of hazy, wispy feel with Dave Davison's vocals floating over top before segue into "The Charm" with its military-like drumbeats, aforementioned distortion, and Davison repeatedly crooning "I don't think there is a sound that I hate more than the sound of your voice when you say I don't love you anymore". "Living Decorations" contrasts with its high energy, claps (or drums that sound super similar), and overall brighter sound. "Solid Ground", which the band premiered a couple months ago, wouldn't have been out of place on the band's previous release You, Me, and The Mountain and marks the band's first use (at least that I can think of) of instruments outside their normal guitar, bass, drums, an random percussion with the use of flutes. Instrumental track "Is" is, unsurprisingly, the shortest track on the album and is minimalistic in its approach: each instrument entering sequentially with its own short obstinato before fading out. "Israeli Caves" is similar to earlier track "Living Decorations" in that it shifts the album in a more upbeat direction. "Banished Be Cavalier" follows in the same vein, "Carrying the Wet Wood" builds up from just two/three quickly played guitar notes and might best represent what the band was trying to achieve on the album. Complex but not distractingly so but also memorable and catchy. "Pigeon", one of the band's encores, finds its way on the album and gets a bit of a revamp with some additional instruments added to the middle of the song but other than that remains pretty much the same. "If This Is" adds some strings, shifts mood, tempo, and intensity, and manages to remind the listener of summer, beaches, and surfing (despite not being about any of those things) due to the characteristic surf rock jangle guitar. "Was" is another instrumental track like "Will" and "Is" and mellows out the album before leading into the lilting title track "Perch Patchwork" which pretty much combines every "odd" thing done on the album. The longest track on the album, nearly double the length of all the other tracks, starts with cello pizzicatos accompaning acoustic guitar and Davison's vocals with occasional string and flute flourishes before the strings become more involved melodically complimenting Davison. The track is the most uncharacteristic song from the band but is actually where the bandmembers' musicianship gets a chance to shine. Not only are they proficient on their instruments but they can also compose, arrange, and perform songs in a style they typically don't play in.

When I heard that the band would be employing a more pop-oriented sound on this album, I got a bit nervous that it wouldn't be the same trademark sound but Perch Patchwork manages to add in new qualities like strings while at same keeping the virtuosity and musicianship that drew me to them in the first place. Fans of the band have nothing to fear as the several of the songs would've fit on the other EPs now problem and the new songs that wouldn't are still good. Those new to the band will no doubt be captivated and hunger for more. For those in need of aural convincing, the album is currently streaming on the band's MySpace here.

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