“Solid Ground”
from the album Perch Patchwork
2010
iTunes

Maps & Atlases released a few EPs before Perch Patchwork, their debut full-length, and the band has done a fair amount of growing up in the meantime. Those early releases were classic math-rock, typified by busy guitar lines borrowed from ’90s bands like Don Caballero. Maps & Atlases are far from the only band from Chicago to use that sound as a starting point, but they’re one of the few to try and move it forward and successfully translate it into pop songs. Perch Patchwork almost leaves the flashy musicianship entirely behind; when it is there, it puts it to good use — here they turn their quirks into something diverse and accessible.

Foremost among those is Dave Davison’s voice — a reedy, almost froggy baritone (think Mark Morrison of “Return of the Mack” and you’re not far off.) Yet he sings naturally and confidently, and even carries many of the songs here on the strength of his performance. “The Charm” builds to layered, clattering percussion with no melody at all save for Davison’s vocal line — the anchor and selling point of an affecting love song. Elsewhere, the band is at its best when it leaps furthest outside of its comfort zone: “Solid Ground” forgoes complicated instrumental lines in favor of layered production, where guitar, bass, and voice contribute only a fraction of the song’s many earworms. The same goes for the bubbly power-pop of “Israeli Caves”; these are melodically busy tracks, but every addition is balanced and thoughtful, no performer stepping over another, all serving the song.

On the second half of Perch Patchwork, the fingers get a little more fleet and the math-rock woodshedding shows, and all those busy notes start to run into each other, making the beginning and end of each track less discernible. But taken on their own, many of those songs feature creative left turns, whether it’s the Latin instrumentation that crashes the sparse, rubbery riff of “Pigeon” or the campfire strumming between the jagged acoustic licks of “Was.” That track might remind you of the mellower moments on Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, and the brief instrumentals that serve as interludes on Perch Patchwork have the gentle folksiness and thick atmosphere of Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House. But while Maps & Atlases are milder and less daring than either of those bands, Perch Patchwork is eclectic and consistent enough that each detour offers its own small reward.

 

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Jonk Music

Founded in Madison, WI in 2005, Jonk Music is a daily source for new music.