Review Summary: It's easy enough to be grateful for the carefree bliss of Maps & Atlases' latest outing, but what does it even mean in the end if we don't beware of its monotony?
Before hearing Beware and Be Grateful
about 5 times:
The most immediately noticeable trait of Maps & Atlases’ sophomore release is its inherent degree of simplicity. Whereas Perch Patchwork was stylistically all over the place, Beware and Be Grateful is much more confident in itself. It takes strides when it needs to, and basks in its own simplicity whenever it pleases. And the most important moments of the album are all indicative of the same ideas, a degree of consistency quite unheard of from the group thus far. The production work impresses, too, and fleshes out the group’s math-rock roots. So while the poppy demeanor of the songs leave the most immediate mark, the instrumental work is just as endearing but is more noticeable with a couple of listens. This is because the nonlinear guitar hooks and bouncy basslines occur alongside David Davison’s lovely croons, which are reminiscent of Justin Vernon gone baritone. And he knows he’s talented, this confidence propelling him through potentially awkward lines with the utmost sincerity. This full-blooded quality about Beware and Be Grateful
is exactly why it leaves a mark in the listener after a few listens, because with the youth of “Bugs” and the mystery of “Old & Gray” what isn’t
memorable about this album? There’s nothing quite like a confident indie group with an agenda. And after all, I’m compelled to say that Maps & Atlases have a misleading title; it’s evident that they need no help getting where they’re going.
After hearing Beware and Be Grateful
about 5 times:
Actually, scratch what I said earlier regarding the album having a very clear and meaningful direction, because the more that I listen to it the less this seems to be the case. The opening track is still fantastic; this won't change, no matter how many times I spin the album. But what does change is the whole record's sincerity. Initially, tracks like 'Winter' and 'Fever' were genuine and fun, but now the overarching simplicity seems really feigned for the group. For instance, if we examine the structure of 'Winter', it becomes clear how disjunct the song's motive is when compared to how it's presented. It's one part after another, one simple verse into an even simpler chorus, and then rinse and repeat into more simplicity. The track comes across as too processed, uncomfortably sterile in the reflection of the unkempt self it was destined to be. If more liberties had been taken to give the song a bit of breathing room - I'm picturing to the breathing room possessed by Bon Iver's 'The Woods', for the record - then it would have come across as much more heartfelt. But this song and its accompanying disappointment illustrate how homogenized the record sounds in some parts, and there's an overarching feeling of disconnect between the listener and the band that seems to grow with every listen.
And finally, with a level head:
I found it helpful to include both opinions on this enigma of an album, simply because it's challenging to imagine it in other ways. What this reminds me of is that some albums age more starkly than others: some sink beneath the surface while others manage to rise above the tide. And this inability to stay afloat is what's most concerning about Beware and Be Grateful
. Maps & Atlases sometimes seem to have forgotten how to effectively express their ideas; here specifically the biggest pitfall that they stumble into is putting too much faith in their calculated formula for poignancy. There are concise exceptions, of course, such as "Bugs" and "Be Three Years Old". Overall, though, the ideas come across as stale and unoriginal, done much more comfortably in the past. What we can decide on for sure is that the album title speaks for itself. It's easy enough to be grateful for the carefree bliss of Maps & Atlases' latest outing, but what does it even mean in the end if we don't beware of its monotony?