Maps & Atlases seeks to balance pop and prog
The fact that Maps & Atlases is often described as a “math rock” or “prog” act is probably enough to convince some music fans to give the Chicago band a miss, but those labels don’t really tell the whole story. Sure, the quartet’s members—singer-guitarist Dave Davison, guitarist Erin Elders, bassist Shiraz Dada, and drummer Chris Hainey—have chops, and they aren’t afraid to use them, as they demonstrate on the new Maps & Atlases album, Beware and Be Grateful. On the other hand, songs like “Fever” and “Winter” carry strong enough melodic hooks along with their spiralling six-string lines and polyrhythmic pulses that you won’t need to have a calculator at the ready in order to appreciate them.
“We don’t view technicality and song enjoyability as mutually exclusive things,” says the prodigiously bearded Davison, reached on the road in Dallas, Texas. “We want to make music that people can dance to, or relate to the lyrics—to affect people emotionally and physically as well as intellectually. I mean, obviously that’s an ambitious goal, but I think that’s what our goal is.”
Given the band’s aim of balancing pop accessibility with progressive prowess, it’s a safe bet that the guys in Maps & Atlases have wide-ranging tastes. You might even venture to guess that the stereo in their tour van is in constant use. That may be the case, but, surprisingly, Davison says he’s more inclined to put on audiobooks or podcasts during long stretches of driving, because he has come to prefer being more “mindful” about listening to music.
“I tend to try to listen more deliberately now,” he says. “I think that when you’re at venues, and just doing music stuff all the time, you really realize just how much music is playing in the background everywhere all the time. I’m not saying that you always need to listen to music totally deliberately, but when you want to listen to an album that you really enjoy, there’s something about not having it be background music that seems especially enjoyable.”
Beware and Be Grateful certainly rewards active listening, but for those who don’t share Davison’s philosophy, it can function equally well as accompaniment to whatever else you happen to be doing. At some point in the 1950s, a record-label marketing genius hit upon the idea of tailoring LPs to particular activities, hence such releases as Music to Work or Study By, Music to Watch Girls By, and even Music to Lure Pigeons By. If Beware and Be Grateful were to be given such a specific designation, it might be Music to Walk Rover By.
“After we graduated from college, and while we were playing in the band, I was walking dogs as a job in Chicago, which I really liked a lot,” Davison notes. “I’d sort of just be wandering around all day—like, literally wandering around, walking circles around streets with dogs. And a lot of the songs came from that time period, so in a way it’s kind of a rambling, wandering, walking album. It kind of seems really tied to that experience in that way.”
Maps and Atlases plays the Media Club on Tuesday (June 12).