Maps & Atlases
US - Barsuk Records / Fat Cat
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back.” The same holds true for fellow sons of the Prairie State, Maps & Atlases, who, despite a flurry of activity since their inception in 2006 are only now releasing their full-length debut. But it’s been worth the wait: Not only is Perch Patchwork the Chicago quartet’s first long player, it’s also their first masterpiece — a beautiful suite of songs that should rightly place the band in indie rock’s upper echelon.
Where the band’s previous EPs (2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain) employed an arid, live sound, Perch Patchwork is a decidedly more humid affair. Though You and Me and The Mountain incorporated more acoustic instruments into the mix, Perch Patchwork finds Maps & Atlases filling their newfound space with strings, horns, assorted percussion, and a variety of toy instruments. From the opening trifecta of “Will”, “The Charm” and “Living Decorations” to the almost Soweto feel of “Pigeon,” and the gorgeous, swelling arrangement of the title track, Maps & Atlases have jettisoned much of the tautness of their previous work in order to let their songs breathe more deeply .
This new atmosphere was due in no small part to the band’s decision to bring in producer Jason Cupp, whose credits include The Elected, Nurses and Cast Spells. With Cupp’s help Maps & Atlases began to deconstruct and rebuild its songs — in some cases changing the original arrangements completely. Cupp also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. For example, Cupp lightly punched singer /
guitarist Dave Davison in the back while he was singing “The Charm” in order to achieve a more rhythmic vocal effect.
“Jason is such a pro,” enthuses Davison. “We recorded the previous EPs so fast and so… live compared to this record. I definitely learned a lot. It’s really interesting to have different sounds on different parts of the song. It’s not just like ‘Okay. This is the drum sound. Sounds cool. This is the sound of the whole record.’”
In this case, the drums were recorded in the B-room at Steve Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio, in Chicago. The rest of Perch Patchwork was tracked both in the band’s practice space and at Davison’s parents’ basement in Indiana. In fact, due to its comfort factor, Maps & Atlases do a lot of recording in that basement. Says Davison, “I like to take breaks. I’m gonna drink coffee and eat and go for a walk. There are no real distractions. It’s just all part of hanging out and making a record.” That and they get a great vocal sound in the bathroom. *****
Davison, Shiraz Dada (bass), Chris Hainey (drums), and Erin Elders (guitar) all met as students at Columbia College in Chicago. The band spent two years touring behind its two EPs — both of which were recorded by Dada. On both, Maps & Atlases honed a sound that combined the tightly wound technical proficiency of Don Caballero and Hella but with songwriting, arrangements, and harmonies that aimed for sky rather than gut. At times the music conjured metal, jazz, and 8-bit videogame soundtracks spinning blissfully wild-eyed and out of control — sometimes all at once. And, within this relatively short amount of time, a progression was clear. While the first EP was more frenetic, the second had
more earthly songs that earned comparisons in the press to TV On The Radio, Deerhoof, CAN, and even Prince.
“I don’t think we thought anyone was ever going to hear the first EP,” says Davison with a laugh. “I think that record was more purposely in your face. It was kind of wild and hyper. The second EP was incorporating those things into songs that have more soul… And a pop quality.”
That pop quality eventually caught the attention of Barsuk Records. As a label known for its focus on songwriters rather than frenetic powerhouses like Maps & Atlases, it’s a move that signifies the leap forward Perch Patchwork represents for the band.
“We all appreciate being affiliated with that,” says Davison. “Our songwriting process has really evolved. I get excited about really good guitar players, but for the most part I like sitting down and listening to a record of well-written songs most of all.”
Perch Patchwork has no shortage of those. And, in a world cluttered with digital ephemera, an album that flows from beginning to end with such deliberate grace is all the more special… Not to mention a perfect soundtrack for the hissing of summer lawns.