Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Album Review: Maps & Atlases - Beware and Be Grateful

Album Rating: B+
It’s fairly easy to dismiss Beware and Be Grateful as a by-the-numbers pop-centric album, one riddled with feel-good hooks and infectious choruses. Truth is, it sort of is, but it’s also so much more than that. There’s something undeniably admirable about how Dave Davison and co. write. Their music is readily accessible, emulating a tamer version of TV on the Radio, except that it’s rather intricate and surprisingly technical. That’s the thing that I love most about Maps & Atlases though: their music is technical and mathy, but not suffocatingly so. We can compare them to artists like TV on the Radio and Vampire Weekend because they’re user-friendly, and later, when we’re listening more attentively, we can pick out all of the cool little nuances. Akin (contextually, not in sound) to a band like Rush, Maps & Atlases can -and do- include subtle complexities in their music that most people won’t notice, but they’re able to retain a broad appeal while maintaining integrity, and that’s something to be commended.

The album’s centerpiece, “Silver Self,” best illustrates this dichotomy. It’s divided into two parts: the unabashedly upbeat and sunny former half and the messy, noise-rock ending -- it would be a Deerhoof song if the production wasn’t as meticulous. It’s the best example on the album of the band’s two different sides, presented almost as singular entities. Elsewhere, most of the album blends technicality with pop bliss. “Winter” features a maddeningly catchy rhythm guitar (this one is breezy, playful, and exuberant - destined to be in constant rotation), and “Remote and Dark Years” comes close to sounding like The Morning Benders, largely due to the distant vocal croons and melodic guitar playing.

The album is full of songs perfect for the season upon us. The production is clean, the vocals are crisp, the guitar melodies are gorgeous, and so on and so forth. There isn’t much to speak negatively about for an album as finely tuned as this. The only real criticism, and really the oddest thing about Beware and Be Grateful, is that the bookends feel notably out of place. Not only do they feel as though they would greatly benefit from being switched, as far as concern of flow goes, but they hardly fit the atmosphere of the album (the latter more so). “Old and Gray” develops slowly, features an oddly contorted vocal sample, and feels like the experimental album closer, whereas “Important,” while not matching the archetype of Beware and Be Grateful, would benefit greatly by being an opener. That’s really of little concern though; Beware and Be Grateful is pleasant, soothing, and playfully fun.

Track Listing:
1. Old & Gray
2. Fever
3. Winter
4. Remote and Dark Years
5. Silver Self
6. Vampires
7. Be Three Years Old
8. Bugs
9. Old Ash
10. Important

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