Band of the Day

2012.05.23

Maps and Atlases

A Chicago band forges tight pop songs out of complex instrumentation
Bent puzzle pieces we are, small cities tall buildings, this glass flipper is giving me blisters.
lyrics from Stories About Ourselves

Maps & Atlases are a four-piece indie band based out of Chicago, IL. The group formed in 2004 when members Dave Davison (guitar, vocals), Shirz Dada (bass) Erin Elders (guitar), and Chris Hainey (drums) met at Columbia College Chicago. The band received praise for the self-released 2006 EP Tree, Swallows, Houses. Their 2008 EP You and Me and the Mountain released by Sargent House helped the band achieve further acclaim thanks to its complex math rock guitar work, energetic drums, and tight songwriting. The band released their debut full-length Perch Patchwork on Barsuk Records and followed that up with 2012's Beware and Be Grateful, also released on Barsuk. They are currently touring the U.S. in support of Beware and Be Grateful.

On first listen you might think Maps & Atlases are the Kramer's of indie rock, but they're really more like mad scientists. Lovably eccentric, they mix staccato math rock with angelic melodies. You imagine them in a practice room, hair standing on end as electricity lances out from highly charged guitar riffs. The Chicago band has been perfecting their sound since forming in 2004, and recently released their 2nd album, Beware and Be Grateful. The album is in-line with earlier efforts like the excellent 2008 EP You Me and the Mountain and 2010 album Perch Patchwork. Maps & Atlases makes music that never stands still, it's ever shifting in twitchy glory thanks to almost mechanical guitar riffs and propulsive drums.

“Fever” begins with a drum groove and rapidly looping guitar, or possibly keyboards, as guitarist/vocalist Dave Davison provides a foil, his unconventional vocals creating a calm in the storm of instrumentation. It's busy, but somehow slick and smooth at the same time. At odds with its title, “Winter” is a sunny track that exemplifies what may be Maps & Atlases core skill: the ability to meld complex, technically difficult instrumental work with catchy pop melodies, prog rock for the people. Sounding kind of like the Dirty Projectors set on fast forward, “Winter” is excitingly dense and will get people dancing with abandon that's probably much less precise than the band's quick, laser-pointed riffs.

Elsewhere on the album the band mellows out, allowing their folk influences to shine. “Remote & Dark Years” still plays with hyper-charged guitar stabs, but in a more serene way, helping Davison build an avant ballad. “Important” is even more low-key and beautifully stately with its piano chords and atmospheric guitar.

Maps & Atlases have established an exhilarating sound. Whatever you want to call it, prog, math rock, experimental rock, this is transcendent stuff that will appeal to people who would usually squirm at those words.