Goods Yard, Brighton Station
Meeting in a Chicago art school over a love of Don Caballero and Hella, Maps & Atlases transitioned through the overt technicality of their fleet-fingered early EPs and the orchestrally complex instrumentation of debut full-length ‘Perch Patchwork’ before settling comfortably into last year’s eclectically poppy ‘Beware and Be Grateful’, an album built on the foundations of a long-held appreciation of classic pop artists like David Bowie, Talking Heads and Prince but supported by the structure of their own talent and established style. Except this is a band who never seem to settle comfortably – each release takes them in a new direction to explore their abilities and grow as musicians – and the only propensity for an established style is that the members remain the same. A conundrum indeed, a mass of contradictions, but the longing in Dave Davison’s reedy voice and the chirpy personality of the tumbling basslines and flittering guitar work, at times almost like bird song, is the thread that weaves its way through each release to date. ‘Perch Patchwork’ received widespread critical acclaim but was written and recorded almost purely for the studio, whereas ‘Beware and Be Grateful’ returned the bands focus to live performance, bringing in a desire to explore the benefits of improvisation their innate ability can produce when combined with the introduction of pedals and other live effects to their sonic arsenal. The music world’s reaction has been equally positive though, and their return to Brighton should be a date to mark in the calendar. One of the most imaginative and listenable bands you’re likely to find.
For this review I wanted to simply write ‘everything about Maps and Atlases makes me happy’ but apparently I need a few more words, as half a page of white space isn’t very exciting for Noise readers. And I think it is about time I wrote a proper review rather than writing love letters to women in the guise of a review.
I am a recent discoverer of Maps & Atlases (thanks to Alastair Reid’s excellent preview). I admit I was drawn to clicking on the link by the wonderful beard vista that is apparent from the band’s photo. I soon did the Youtube comb through some of their stuff and immediately decided that I would be at the Green Door Store on the 7th March.
From watching this extended youtube clip and far, far more so from the live show, the technical prowess of these fellas is pretty darn impressive. Chris Hainey’s drumming is something else; not wildly expansive but startlingly energetic, original and dead tight. Dave Davison and Erin Elder combined on guitar to provide trickle swathes of intricate strings down upon us; a wall of sound that gently wrapped itself around our shoulders and made us forget the ravages of the damp world beyond its reach. Elder is the engine of the band, studiously hitting every note whilst keeping watch over a synth that occasionally let out some drips of noise. Shiraz Dada on bass; with a name like that, who needs an instrument? He was in the bar before the main event and he dominated the area with his clipped beard and piercing stare that was at once fun-loving and fucking terrifying. He held the bass to great effect during the show and firmly instructed the crowd when to do hand claps (I fear anyone who missed the beat was later taken to a dark back room where their genitals may have been the victim of some electrical assault).
The general vibe of the sound is guitar-drum led rock but there are myriad influences that filter in through the night. At the end of Fever, they partake in an extended ending that brings in elements of Afrobeat (elements that crop up in other tracks too) and some deep funk bass lines that underpin the lightness of Edler and Davison’s guitar leads. When Davison told us that ‘we’re gonna mix it up a bit now’, I held my breath, wondering where they could possibly lead us now. And bang, they throw out the best ever cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Want To Rule The World’ and we are all standing high on another level.
Dave Davison gets a paragraph all of his own. I had spent most of that day watching the band on youtube and admiring Dave’s beard/hair combo. When I walked into the GDS, there he was in his 130 pound glory in a corridor leaning against a poster clad wall. That is the weirdness of today’s age, that a face on a screen that I had become to know intimately through trans-atlantic cables, routers, switches and the magic of TCP/IP was now stood here in my local bar. I knew him so well, yet we were the strangest of strangers. I am happy to report that his locks are as impressive in real life as in LCD land. Moreover, so is his voice. I am at a loss to properly describe how he manages to make such an extraordinary sound (and not always with words, merely noises) through a mouth so hidden. Hopefully if you have watched the clip earlier you’ll have come up with a suitable simile for this phenomenon. I’m all out of words for once. Dave’s beard and voice are impressive. The most impressive trait he possesses though is his gracious and humble approach to his music (shared, though not as overtly, by the whole band). Between songs he smiled gently and thanked us for coming into his room and listening to him make some sounds. I smiled too.
Maps & Atlases are a band I am truly delighted to have found. I can’t imagine my life before they came chirping around, filling my head with guitar melodies that don’t let up. I even reckon I’m gonna grow back my proper beard. Everyone wants to be like Dave, right?
Words: Tim Smillie
Love Thy Neighbour is a collective of music obsessives who promote, release, play, DJ, watch, listen and devour music. We’re based in Brighton, UK. Come to our shows, buy our records and listen to the music we talk about.