Maps & Atlases are an art rock band that’s no stranger to the touring or festival circuit. They have been quietly building a dedicated following, playing small venues all across America over the past few years and they have played a number of festivals. This summer, they will play the main stage of the first ever Bunbury Festival in Cincinnati, alongside greats Death Cab for Cutie and Neon Trees. So, they certainly have the punch necessary to sustain a career. But, does this album contain punch? I decided to jump in effectively blindfolded and find out.
Word on the street is that Maps & Atlases might have stepped away from their greatness a bit on this most recent LP, Beware and Be Grateful. Admittedly, since this is my first exposure to the band I cannot be the judge of this. I can only evaluate the album on its own terms.
So, what exactly does this album sound like? To me, it sounds like a hybrid of Dispatch, Dave Matthews, with a dash of Silversun Pickups and eccentricity of something else entirely thrown in. The vocals are an acquired taste. This might be where the Dispatch and Dave Matthews influences pop in the most, as you hear both pieces of Brad Corrigan and the latter in the singing. Lead off track “Old and Grey” eases us into their sound, but throws listeners for a loop with some unusually nasal standalone cries in the bridge. “Fever” is percussion driven, bringing to the table an 80s-esque feel. The next couple of tracks bring almost an easy-listening feel. Good, but not super memorable. It’s the sort of thing where I have to be in a very specific mood to listen to them in a sought out way. Most of the time, if my iPod were on shuffle I would probably skim over them. The long “Silver Self” meanders to a peppy, repetitive beat with some nice harmonies building up to it but it takes a bit too long to get there. Not trying to define good “art” here, but this is how the tune rubbed me.
Two favorites from the record come from the latter half. Enter “Bugs” and “Old Ash.” The former grooves with salsa-like tendencies, and the latter is a mid-tempo track that brings forth a catchy, staccato riff that will echo in your head long after the song ends. It is the memorable nature of these two tracks, I think, which makes me like them.
I have no doubt that Maps and Atlases are very good at what they do. As an Ohioan, I plan to do what I can to attend the inaugural Bunbury Festival at which they will be playing, and I am excited to see how the music translates to a live setting. I have a feeling that it would lend itself very well to an outdoor festival setting, with its ability to simultaneously be music to groove to or have in the background whilst sipping a beer socializing with friends.