The latest record from Maps & Atlases, Beware and Be Grateful, opens with just the tiniest sample of sound that seems like it could be taken from an episode of Twin Peaks, then fades directly into a song that has the bones of at least three other songs wrapped up in it. This amalgam of sorts is entitled “Old & Gray” and covers the opening throes of love in daydream doodles all the way through the hope of having someone stand by you until you reach the decrepit gray of old age.
Maybe it’s just because I’m in my early twenties trying to figure out life, love and the universe, but it seems to me these questions are woven into this album, and not answered but probed, examined and bemoaned with a care that is inspiring. The quilting of different sounds and marriage of styles contained in this record is outrageous and wonderful. Without fear and without discrimination Maps & Atlases take the best parts of every genre and every sound and mix it into one big beautiful mess. An angular jam of circuitous pop energy and lyrics of ancient innocence and juvenile sin.
Dave Davison’s voice glimmers through the opening song like a guiding light, though it is surrounded on all sides by walls of sound. Beats, pianos, acoustic guitar strums, electronic sounds of all glorious shapes and sizes and a variety of harmonies appear at different points, only to fade into themselves and out again. Oh, and I’m still only talking about the first track.
Concerns and cares of “Old & Gray” move without a break in sound to the splashes of sprockety guitar in “Fever” which soars high just like a temperature and slowly breaks at just the right moments. Seriously, when I hear the guitar on this song in the section I want to jump out of my own skin, it’s like happiness translated directly into sound. It kind of sounds like an excerpt from a 70s video game that would play when you leveled up or got a bonus point, you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. The jangling pipe dream of “Winter” is next and ironically, this is the perfect track to play on a summer road trip in the car with the windows down.
Then, we come to the miracle of “Remote & Dark Years” (Side note: it is pretty clear that Maps & Atlases love ampersands, and I do too. Another reason to love the record? Yes.). You know that time in your life that you look back on now and kind of shudder and wonder how that was you and how you made those choices? This is a song about that time, and the decision to not let black holes like that exist in your life anymore. It is a powerful song that takes the most simple imagery and mundane bits of life and turns them into reasons to embrace all that is bright in life. Absolutely brings me to tears about four times per day since I started listening to this album.
Mid-record is another completely stunning track, “Silver Self” starts off with tribal sounding chants so haunting they could be taken straight from the African jungles of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. But, true to form, it evolves into a pop-driven electronic infused dancey track. And isn’t the phrase “Silver Self” itself enough to invoke visions of souls and dreams? If all that doesn’t win you over, the stunning guitar solo at the end should.
Instead of losing speed in the second half of the album continues to expand, as on “Old Ash” when Davison proves that it is possible to actually convert jealousy into a sound. That is what separates his vocal delivery from the endless others, he doesn’t write a song about jealousy or sing about being jealous, he actually places that emotion into his voice, his guttural, desperate rendition of “I didn’t know you let them call you that” captures that feeling of lack of knowledge that instantly sparks envy. He sings later on in this song “Just because all the rocks are overturned /And the worms are all baking / Doesn’t mean all the animals are gone / There’s a new breed in the making”. Every time I hear this part I think of the breed of music that Maps & Atlases are creating. Despite the deadened carcass that “pop” music has become, records like this seem to suggest that there is a new genre in the making, and it sounds beautiful.
I love listening to this record because it surprises me at every turn and because Dave Davison’s vocals are timeless, shimmering and rugged. I love listening to it because it is studied, unpredictable, kaleidoscopic and as unsolvable as a rubix cube. Listen to this album, you’ll fall in love and never look back. Isn’t that what we all want anyway?