Beware And Be Grateful
Barsuk Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/21/2012
Chicago’s Maps & Atlases have quietly and rather quickly become one of the most noted indie rock sensations of the moment. The young outfit has quite an arsenal of well-received discs already to their credit. A band that never does the same record twice, their originality and willingness to experiment with their sound has left many a listener scratching their head in a mock gesture of self-defeat when trying to accurately describe their sound. Math rock? Sure, in some ways. Indie pop? Okay, but certainly not in the traditional sense. Art rock? Possibly, but again, not in a way that follows any easily defined parameters.
Known for their technically proficient songcraft, Maps & Atlases have in Beware And Be Grateful delivered an album that is on par with anything the band has done, though the biggest difference this time around is presenting a more polished version of themselves, and the influx of more pop-oriented hooks. Of course, this isn’t to say anything here is standard in any sense of the word. Songs like “Old & Gray” find the band flirting with a funky groove, while “Bugs” fits in a world music category with a heavy Spanish slant. A good bulk of the disc shows traces of African style rhythms, especially on the standout track “Winter,” though their most straightforward rock track of their career “Vampires” is a close second, warranting repeated listens immediately.
This genre-hopping is an acquired taste for most listeners, but the odd time signatures, endlessly complex arrangements, and inventive song structures will be appreciated by those with an ear for the unconventional, and there are plenty of catchy choruses and memorable riffage for those who need instant gratification. Producing a sound that is truly genre-defying means that comparisons really don’t do Maps & Atlases justice. If you must, as a reference point, imagine a collision of Vampire Weekend and TV On The Radio in a band that also possesses an unparalleled attention to detail.