Welcome to another installment of “Better Know a Hometown Band” here in Bloomington, Ind., and today we have Memory Map. They started off under the moniker Holiday Band in late 2009. A side project to all members, they are like the New Pornographers of Bloomington, a supergroup, or Dream Team, if you will. The band caught on quick--as could be predicted--but I ignored them until about a month ago. I unfairly prejudged the group as being our town’s “cool kids” attempting to monopolize the scene with yet another project. Well, this is where I eat my words and you remind me that we “don’t judge a book by its cover” or that “we’re all the same on the inside” or some touchy-feely crap. Yeah, yeah. Memory Map (who changed their name because some dumb cover band threatened them with a cease and desist) ARE awesome and nice to boot (except that Tobey won’t accept my Facebook friend request--you've been called out dude, on the internets!).
The starting lineup of this Dream Team goes like this: You've got the Michael Jordan of guitarists--Matt Tobey of Good Luck fame. You've got the Scottie Pippen in lead singer Michael Dixon of Prayer Breakfast who handles a crazy guit-bass, playing a guitar rigged with a MIDI synth trigger to cover low and high end simultaneously. There’s the Larry Bird in Michael Bridavsky of Push-Pull who's no slouch on guitar, either, and the local recording guru, founder of Russian Recording. Powerhouse drummer Josh Morrow from Impure Jazz is the Charles Barkley.
Memory Map cranked out songs quickly with a focus on three-times-interweaving guitar noodles and only later added vocals. My first impression of the band reminded me of defunct Chicago act Colossal, who relied little on distortion but hit hard and had mad tech. I still stand by that comparison, but as I've gotten to know this album I hear it less and less. Though it’s a team effort, the vocals are carried mostly by Dixon, and are nice and crackly in the vein of classic second-wave emo à la Frame & Canvas or the like. “Park Bench” is one of the catchiest songs of the set, with one of the more straightforward, palm-muted progressions, all with some tasty synth lines by Bridavsky. Shit gets heavy for the choruses with a gang call of "Fallin’ away, falling away!" After a chill intro, “Big City” takes off into near-pop-punk with Morrow taking lead, doin’ Phil-Collins-by-way-of-Screeching Weasel.
One standout here is “Sunburnt and Blown,” which is impressive from a technical standpoint yet maintains an addictive vocal melody and supportive guitar-and-synth counter-melodies. Showcasing Morrow’s skills with some lighting-quick ride-to-hihat double-strokes, the song lurches forward with an evil Clues-style stomp. The verses have a great melodic interplay between the higher range of Dixon and Bridavsky singing baritone in Russian. That’s right. And it works! “Sew It Up” is my absolute favorite on the album. It's got a great groove and a surprising twangy second verse with pedal steel and acoustic shredding, but the best part is the chorus: “ Damned if I know it's all right (RIGHT!) / Sew it up inside, all the time / Someone want to say it's all right? (RIGHT!) / Going out in style, still alive." Closer “Protection Cause” finally turns down the tempo a bit and is the slowest and longest song here. It's twinkly but has some cool, boomy auxiliary percussion; it’s a nice change of pace and a great closer.
The only problem I have with the album and band’s setup in general is the lack of a proper bassist. Sure, the low EQ is covered with the MIDI synth and Dixon does a stellar job of being both a bassist and guitarist, playing in a finger-picking style with some weird chord shapes to pull it off. Call me a traditionalist (or a drummer) but I love the way a great rhythm sections locks things down, syncing bass with bass drum. The ‘bass’ here never gets any spotlight.
Memory Maps grabbed me instantly with their musical ability, but I stuck around for the melodies. A late addition to my potential-albums-for-year-end-list list, it’s now just a matter of how high these “cool kids” will climb.
Past installments of “Better Know a Hometown Band”: Alexander the Great, husband&wife, Matty Pop Chart, Pony Boy