Maps And Atlases ‘Beware and Be Grateful’ – album review

Maps & Atlases - Beware & Be Grateful

Maps And Atlases ‘Beware and Be Grateful’ (Fat Cat Records)
CD/LP/DL
Available 16th April 2012

I have to admit I’d never heard of Maps and Atlases, before I was given this, their second album for review. A quick glance at the press release accompanying the promo gave little clue ”“ phrases such as “non-proscriptive approach”, “mellifluous harmonies, percolating rhythms” and “instinct for tight kinetic rhythms never obstuficates the impulse toward catchy, asymmetrical pop” suggested that their PR person had swallowed a thesaurus.

“Old And Gray” is a subdued six minute opener, a very basic backing at the start giving way to an electronic undercurrent and half-spoken, half-sung lyrics, with some very simple but forceful vocal harmonies to the fore before a dramatic ending of almost off-key singing over a stop-start backing. As an opener, it’s interesting, but might start to grate over a full album.

Moving to the second and third tracks (“Fever” and “Winter”) and the catchy, asymmetrical pop description starts to make sense. They sound like something very familiar, but you can’t put a handle on what the comparison should be ”“ they drew me in though, the lead vocals are quite straight, but there’s all sorts going on in the backing vocals and the music.

“Remote And Dark Years”, available on their website, plays it a little straighter and is more accessible than what’s gone before, without losing that distinctive but unique sound.

“Silver Self”, six and a half minutes of it, is described as the album’s centrepiece and starts again with just vocals and vocal harmonies, before a beat akin to a softer, basic electronic version of a steel band kicks in to back up the spoken words and forms the extended instrumental section. At this point, you actually feel for that poor PR person having to come up with short succinct descriptions for the album.

“Vampires” and “Be Three Years Old” return to the style of “Fever” and “Winter”, and are short and sweet and there’s tinges of Vampire Weekend in there. They’re about three minutes each, although on first listen I missed that they were two different songs, because there’s about six parts of songs bursting out of the two of them.

Maps And Atlases ‘Beware And Be Grateful’ Album trailer

Penultimate track “Bugs” has a persistent electronic rhythm underpinning it, and is a slight disappointment as it doesn’t possess the variety and range of what’s gone before. “Old Ash” closes the album and again it feels like multiple songs are fighting to get out, but like much of the rest of the album, it’s ultimately successful in grabbing the listener, because of the uncertainty of where the song is going to go next.

Apparently, these guys have a devoted live following and it’s not difficult to extrapolate the record to live shows that would be unique experiences for both band and audience, and very different every night. Somehow, that PR person might just have hit the nail on a very wordy head.

Maps And Atlases UK/European April Tour

16th Bristol – Cooler
17th London – Garage
18th Manchester – Night and Day
19th Glasgow – Nice ‘N Sleazy
20th Leeds – Brudenell
22nd Belgium Brussels – Botanique
23rd Netherlands Amsterdam – Paradiso
24th Germany Cologne – Gebaeude 9
25th Germany Hamburg – Haus III&70
26th Germany Berlin – Bi Nuu
27th Germany Frankfurt – Das Bett
28th France Paris Fleche – D’or

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