Maps & Atlases - You and Me and the Mountain
Record Label: Sargent House
Release Date: July 16, 2008
Maps & Atlases have done it again. Two years since the genius of their debut Trees, Swallows, Houses, this Chicago four-piece have done nothing but improve in every way. The basic sound remains the same: quirky art-pop with strong vocal melodies and gorgeous, technical instrumentation. Vocalist/guitarist Dave Davidson has mastered the two-hand tapping style of playing while singing his amazing vocal lines, sometimes playing and singing at two different rhythms. But, enough about how great the band is. Let's explore how great this album is.
The first thing long-time fans will notice is how chilled out these songs are compared to Trees, Swallows, Houses. The Don Caballero-style finger-tapping freakouts have been toned down significantly. These songs have more emphasis on melody and songwriting than just technical proficiency. This, however, is definitely not a negative. The vibe of the entire album is very relaxed and uplifting, making it extremely listenable, no matter what your mood.
"You are. / You are a witch. / You are a witch with your short hair."
The EP kicks off with "Witch." Davidson's vocals are smooth and have greatly improved since their last album. The vocal melody follows the lead guitar for much of this song, which switches back and forth from finger-tapping to quick strumming which brings to mind a ukulele. The rhythm section shows it's ability to keep a steady foundation as the guitars wander, play off each other, and intertwine throughout the song.
"Artichokes" starts with an Asian-sounding guitar riff that may also draw some Minus the Bear comparisons. This song has been posted as a live video on Maps and Atlases' Myspace profile for quite some time, and this recording breathes new life into it, also helping to highlight the amazing production on this EP. All the instruments shine through the mix, clear and clean. The addition of tinkling bells helps add to the upbeat, happy feeling of the song.
The title track, "You and Me and the Mountain," makes the band's maturation even more apparent, bouncing around from pop to jazz and back again. Davidson's vocals shine in this song, as he sings "And every time that you would close your eyes, / You had a dream there was a ghost here / And the ghost knew my name." That line literally gave me chills the first time I heard it. This song was put online prior to the EP's release, and with good reason. If there were going to be a single, this would be it.
"Daily News" begins with a slow build on the guitar and drums, incorporating a xylophone and off-time handclaps. The verse builds to a climax before the music drops out briefly, leaving just the drums and Davidson's screech (one of the few times on the EP he allows his voice to crack) before the rest of the band rejoins him. Near the end of the song, the intro returns as a bridge, building tension before the song's finale.
Perhaps the most dramatic departure from their previous work, "Ted Zancha" begins with what sounds like elevator music, morphing into an up-tempo, jazzy song, as Davidson sings "This is World War II / And everyone here's thinking of you." The vocals are spectacular in this song, and Davidson recorded two vocal tracks for this song, which frequently harmonize, especially on the "Oohs" and "Lahs" which are prominent throughout.
Although brief (clocking in at just over 17 minutes), You and Me and the Mountain shows a band focusing and maturing their sound, and is some of their best work. Nearly everything has improved from their previous album, from the flamboyant percussion, to the lush vocals. The guitars, too, have retained their previous flair, while also refining it and using it in new, inventive ways. Almost always the focal point of the songs, the riffs change from precise, rapid finger-tapping, to strumming, even sometimes creating a wall of sound and melody. My one complaint is that the bass seems to have been pushed to the background a bit, which is a shame because Trees, Swallows, Houses featured some of the best bass playing in the music scene today. Overall, though, this album is spectacular, nearly flawless, and one of the most creative, inventive pieces of music around. Do yourself a favor, catch these guys on tour, and pick up a copy of this EP. It does not disappoint.
I absolutely agree on the point of the bass being pushed back. I LOVE Shiraz Dada and I think his bass playing is mind-blowing. It's the reason why Trees, Swallows, Houses will always be my favorite album of theirs. In the full-length album, it becomes a bit more prominent again but it's based more off of what everyone else is playing instead of adding a whole different element to the song. That being said I still absolutely love the full-length.