9/10/08 Maps & Atlases @ Mercury Lounge, New York, N.Y.

Videos by American Songwriter

Photo by Jessica McGaugh

Although “they” call what Maps & Atlases do math rock, sufferers of dyscalculia fear not: you do not need an abacus or a slide rule to enjoy their fast and baroque grooves. Maps & Atlases make post-punk music that is a bit like ad hoc jazz, except none of their concise songs (and that is what they are, songs) are improvised.

The technicality of their music is undeniable, and is what in part drew a portion of their audience tonight. Each song clearly contained plotted and arranged movements, with themes and melodies between quick signature changes. Percussion was key to this: I caught the drummer rapidly tuning several of his drums between songs to alter the pitch to their desired effects and swapping out a glockenspiel, crotales and something that looked like timbales.

If you closed your eyes and let your other senses and unconscious do the work, you’d find your way between signature changes and predict your way to the next motif. It sounded like there were 8 or 9 players on stage. This was a clever illusion.

When you opened your eyes you saw four men frenetically doing things to their guitars, bass and drums you’ve likely never seen before: Two handed hammer-ons Eddie Van Halen and Kerry King of Slayer would gladly re-sell their souls to the devil to pull off; peerless, intricate, stupendous drumming melded with the bassists’ sly counterpoint and compound meters. The vocals were secondary, perhaps by design, perhaps not. That was hard to surmise.

Tight doesn’t even begin to describe how well knit Chicago’s Maps & Atlases playing was this evening. Try barnacles on a boat’s keel or molecular cohesion and you’re almost there.


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