Review Summary: All grown up.
Well, this is a surprise. Maps and Atlases have gone and made a pop record. To be honest, their previous work wasn't that far removed from being user friendly. It still had more hooks than a barrel of monkeys and was rather straightforward in its direction, but it was what was contained within, a conglomerate of zany start stop rhythms - hypnotizing finger tapped guitars bouncing back and forth like a coked up squirrel, that warped their pop sensibilities into something palatable for more adventurous music fans. So it is rather shocking that one of the States' most endearing math-rock bands have decided to drop the math all together. Now let us all take a collective deep breath, forget everything we though we knew about the Chicagoans, and see Perch Patchwork
for what it really is: a band stripping itself down to the core.
For the longest time it was Dave Davison's guitar, not his voice, that was the focal point in Maps and Atlases music, but now the band have made a 180 degree change in their approach to songwriting. It's a big gamble given the nasally timbre of his voice, but where there is no risk there is no reward, and on Perch Patchwork
the reward is huge. No longer shackled to the confines of having to create a viable vocal melody within cooky time signatures, Davison explores all directions of his range. The dip from his usual pitchy idiosyncratic warbling into a somewhat forced baritone on “The Charm” may be somewhat odd on its own, but when his hummably sweet melody is coupled with cascading drums and sparse, droning guitar swells it recalls the same nu-folk sensibilities that defined Animal Collective's work before they went on their electronic acid trip. Elsewhere on Perch Patchwork
, such as the aptly titled “Israeli Caves”, Maps and Atlases' varying array of both western and eastern influences coalesce into them beating Vampire Weekend at their own game, taking the syncopated African rhythms that were introduced to American listeners back in the 80's with Paul Simon's Graceland
and mixing them with the flair Middle Eastern of melodies and a strong background in 60's art-rock. Even when reaching back to their older, more technical sound on “Pigeon”, it is deconstructed into its base essence and put back together through this new world conscious musical vision, compiling an artful smorgasbord of tribal sounds with their new found take on the most adventurous of American folk..
For a band that has spent the last half of a decade being defined by the technicality of their music, making an album like Perch Patchwork
could have been a disaster, but Maps and Atlases pulled through and made the most important record of their career. Even though the change in sound might alienate the most stubborn of fans, what they gain on their Barsuk debut is a new found sense of direction and a grandiose vision that stretches farther than the confines of math-rock ever could.