New pop equation
Maps & Atlases’ pop music experiment.
Chico, CA 95928
Not all students of math rock are interested in merely showingoff their complicated musical technique. For bands like Chicago’s Maps & Atlases, the real fun is in finding nuggets during mathy explorations that can be taken out of the usual math-rock context and placed in more conventional pop and rock settings to create something shiny and new.
On Maps & Atlases’ most recent release, 2010’s acclaimed Perch Patchwork, there is no shortage of complexity, but each rhythmic detour and head-scratching riff provides just one element to a deceptively straightforward song. A series of deftly crafted speedy riffs gets treated with a breezy vocal melody to create the uptempo pop tune “Israeli Caves.” And a complex acoustic-guitar pattern at the beginning of “Pigeon” is content to loop repeatedly around Dave Davison’s throaty voice before the percussion and bouncy bass line join in, taking the song for a surprising world-beat turn.
The band members met one another while going to art school in Chicago, and for the first few years and EPs experimented with more typically math-rock sound before diversifying their approach.
“I think we’ve gotten a little bit better at controlling it,” said singer/guitarist Davison, laughing, as the talked about the band’s more experimental early days. Talking by phone a couple of days before the band embarked on a national tour with Circa Survive (which will bring them to the Senator Theatre, Tuesday, Oct. 4), Davison expanded on the band’s sound.
“There is something that is fun and rewarding about music that you sing along to … all the things that you experienced growing up, like listening to the radio and stuff. And I think that we can have that effect, but in our own way. You have different methods of getting there. You can make that sort of emotional impact—make music that’s fun—but then also make music that’s a little more cerebral too, then it’s a win-win situation.”
When asked whether the current approach was consciously chosen or just a natural evolution of the band’s songwriting, Davison said it was a little of both.
“I think we all kind of grew up listening to and sort of being inspired by classic-rock music and pop music and that kind of stuff. And I think that when we originally met and were jamming together, and sort of, you know, just doing stuff, I think it developed. We were all just starting art school and we were all learning about a lot of different things. We were interested in avant-garde music and experimental music, but I think that we were all coming to it with the mindset of what we knew. We could take these aspects of experimental music and incorporate them into that structure of relatively short songs with lyrics and repeating parts.”
While Maps & Atlases has been active for half a decade, the release of Perch Patchwork—the band’s first full-length—has increased its profile considerably. The year or so since the release has been filled with constant touring and performances around the world.
“It’s been really cool,” Davison admitted. “It’s obviously really fun making music, [and] it’s extra fun to be able to see the world and meet lots of nice people. It’s really ideal.”
Davison says they are just focusing on enjoying the adventure that success has provided, and for now there are no concrete plans for what’s next.
“I think sometimes when you’re in a band that tours a lot that making an album or recording could easily take on a quality of: ‘Well, we’re gonna just make another album because that’s what we do.’ … I just want to make sure that anything that we do as far as releasing music that we stay 100 percent focused on releasing albums and releasing music that we feel needs to exist in the world. I think that’ll come soon.”