Maps and Atlases - Tree, Swallows, Houses (Cover Artwork)

Maps and Atlases

Tree, Swallows, Houses (2006)

Sargent House

If you were to take the technical musicianship and forward-thinking mindset of the Dillinger Escape Plan or Daughters, and transplant it into a jazzy indie rock context, you'd probably get something like Maps & Atlases. It takes some time to really dig into and appreciate the complex instrumentation these guys cook up on Trees, Swallows, Houses, but give it some patience and the seemingly impenetrable flurries of notes and odd rhythms suddenly seem to click. The more you listen to this EP, the more it reveals its secrets, its nuances, and its subtleties: The mark of a quality release by some extremely talented musicians.

Maps & Atlases' highly progressive sound, filled with two-handed tapping and mathematically mind-bending percussion, belies their extremely stripped down approach towards gear. They plug their guitars straight into their amps with no effects or overdrive, and let rip on some of the most challenging yet catchy tunes to grace human ears in a long while. That's really what enables this band to shine, too; while they can shred like no tomorrow, they know when to hold back and never lose sight of the importance of writing actual songs.

A lot of bands do the whole "controlled chaos" thing, but not usually this well, or with this style of music. Rather than going off on their own tangents and sounding like they're all playing different songs at the same time, each instrument fits into the others like pieces in a well-constructed puzzle. Jams like "Every Place Is a House" and "Big Bopper Anthems" start off with blazing fast guitar runs before easing up a bit into more sedated, but no less intricate verses. The bass lines here are positively flowing, and the dynamic drumming goes nuts and chills out at just the right times.

Vocalist and co-guitarist Dave Davison's voice takes some getting used to. While his unique timbre can be distracting initially, after a few listens his voice begins to feel like a more natural fit. He pens some pretty sweet lyrics too, like "Feet on the dashboard on the way home / Clipping your nails like a metronome." Weird.

Like it was previously stated though, this isn't an easy record to get into. You could be forgiven for writing this off as self-indulgent, indie rock guitar wankery at first listen, but the more time you spend with it the less that seems to be the case. Trees, Swallows, Houses is a deceptively cohesive disc that will astonish you with its flash, and pull you in with its substance. Bravo, guys.