Review Summary: Will always provide an uplifting, if detached listen.
Indie-math band Maps and Atlases
have always been right on the money with their sound. Combining math-rock sensibilities with a catchy, contagious indie backbone and percussive awareness rarely seen inside the genre, the band gained wide recognition as one of the most intelligent acts within the scene. Working under the Cast Spells moniker, Bright Works and Baton
is front man Dave Davison’s first foray into the world of individual side projects; so how does his technical brand of songwriting translate into a solo setting? With a few subtle changes, a couple of unheard influences and a whole bunch of ability, it all comes together excellently.
Recorded in a matter of days and relying mostly on first takes and spontaneous composition, this release indicates a slight shift in sound for Davison. The quirky instruments, expressive melodies and wistful crooning synonymous with Maps and Atlases are still there – although less sporadic (as is essential with this type of music) – but when stripped down to its roots, Bright Works and Baton
is essentially a folk record. “War Story Hellos” begins with upbeat acoustic guitar and gorgeous carefree vocals reminiscent of Bob Dylan before a fiddle enters and transforms it into a unique take on swaying folk littered with digital bloops and electric guitar. With “Potted Plants”, Davison takes the opportunity to implement as many of his indie nuances as possible: xylophones, keyboards and a subtle synth is used effectively to create a clean, mellow atmosphere that compliments his scalar vocal melodies to no end. Every song here is covered in his personalized style of writing, and - as a listener - it is easily recognizable.
Davison’s vocals and ambiguous lyrics – a trait that interestingly enough juxtaposes the intimate nature of folk – are the focal point here. “American Quilt”, an anathematic track that boasts a beautiful chorus (a rare occurrence in any Maps and Atlases material), is covered in intriguing metaphors that are more or less impossible to understand. Lines like “The muted applause of rain / Sleeves wrapped like licorice on the back seat of a train / Splintered driftwood half moons on my tongue
” aren’t exactly the most comprehensive lyrics, but interesting none the less; yet those looking for a relatable listen won’t be finding any solace here. Luckily for Davison, the honest nature of his voice makes anything he sings believable anyway, regardless of its lyrical merit.
Bright Works and Baton
is irrepressibly happy and will always provide an uplifting, if detached listen. No song here breaks the three minute mark, helping combat the uniform sound and mood of the EP; although obviously intentional, it does cause the fifteen minutes of music here to become slightly homogenous. Regardless, Cast Spells is grounds for which Davison has proven himself a competent songwriter in his own right and certainly worthy of the full length album that is planned for the future.
Bright Works and Baton
can be streamed in its entirety at http://castspells.bandcamp.com/