One miniature hamster and 155 of you will remember when Maps & Atlases were gracious enough to roll through the burg a few weeks ago, making a stop at Knox’s very own Studio Theatre in an event presented by WVKC.
Maps & Atlases formed in late 2004 while members Chris Hainey (drums), Shiraz Dada (bass), Erin Elders (guitar) and Dave Davison (guitar/vocals) were in school at Columbia College Chicago.
The four musician-artists were drawn together trying to synthesize a unique sound that featured technical elements in a more accessible context. The group gained a formidable cult following in the Chicagoland area throughout the mid-2000s, and only now have started to break out of that shell, touring with groups like Minus the Bear, Ra Ra Riot and Portugal the Man.
Maps & Atlases has also been invited to showcase their talents on the major festival circuit, playing sets at SXSW and CMJ over the past year. The group was also featured in a Pabst Blue Ribbon advertisement campaign over the summer.
Despite being active for almost a decade, Maps & Atlases has only produced two full length LP’s (including “Beware And Be Grateful”), preferring instead to package their work into smaller bursts of self-contained EP’s and seven-inch singles.
Beginning with their 2005 release, “Bird Barnyard — EP,” there has been a distinct departure from the band’s progressive affectations to a more accessible, pop-oriented sound.
Enter, “Beware And Be Grateful,” the band’s most catchy and warmest effort to date. There’s still a high degree of musicianship and dexterity, but for the most part Maps & Atlases have shed some of their more aggressive math-rock suggestive riffs, in favor of a more inclusive and kaleidoscopic sound.
For the most part, the arrangements on this record retain their forehead-crinkling complexity, but unlike the compositions off early EP’s like “Trees, Swallows, Houses,” these songs imbue a refreshing simplicity and gravitation towards catchy hooks that create an entirely new shtick for the Chi-town quartet.
“Beware And Be Grateful” is clean, and Dave Davison’s vocals ring through with unprecedented clarity, never more so than on the bouncy, African-rhythm permeated “Winter.” “Vampires” is probably the most straightforward track on the record, but still the band finds room within the modest confines to create a host of carefully articulated melodies and riffs while still propelling the track at light speed. “Be Three Years Old” is a breezy, feather light song that recalls previous jams like “The Ongoing Horrible,” or “Living Decorations”.
“Beware And Be Grateful” was released on Tuesday, April 17 on Barsuk Records. Maps & Atlases are currently touring the UK and Europe behind their most recent release, which to date is easily their most accessible and melodic. Essential tracks include: “Important,” “Vampires” and “Be Three Years Old.” Check out “Beware And Be Grateful” on the WVKC digital library, and stream it at mapsandatlases.org.