For anyone who has ever pondered the finer points of a sweep or has spent countless hours perfecting their finger tapping or has taken college-level calculus for the sole purpose of improving their ability to play in complex time signatures, Emo’s was the place to be on Monday night. Maps & Atlases headlined a shoe-gaze pop sandwich on math-rock bread.
The night began with a line much bigger than anything a band with as much dedication to the arithmetic of music as Maps & Atlases should ever be able to garner. The band has tempered its mathy freak-outs with melodies as accessible and memorable as the Pythagorean theorem. The result is something like having your brain smashed to pieces, then strung back together with Bubblicious. Comparisons to bands like the Don Caballero are inevitable, but after listening to a song like “You and Me and the Mountain,” it’s easy to see why Maps & Atlases are another animal entirely.
The Globes opened the night with a set of slightly techie indie rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foals record. The thing about these technically driven bands is that they don’t do much in the way of a stage show, presumably because 100 percent of their energy is being poured into their fingers, which are flying all over their fretboards, and their forearms, which are hammering complex rhythms.
The Globes is one of the tamer tech-rock bands. They’re music sounds like it was not created to impress, only to entertain. It just so happens that their riffs and rhythms do make you open your mouth a little, raise your eyebrows and say “Wow.” The harmonizing vocal attack of Kyle Musselwhite and Erik Walters worked well enough but the vocals were too breathy. It sounded like the band had spent all their time creating original, forward-thinking music and when it came time to think about vocals, the band had run out of ideas and decided to go with the typical ethereal singing.
|Cults at Emo’s|
Cults, who performed in the middle slot, were the odd duck of the night. No finger tapping. No head spinning finger acrobatics. Not even a time change to speak of. What the Cults brought to the table was a doo-wop sort of vintage pop that would not have sounded out of place at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance (50 points if you get the reference (200 points gets you a ride in my Delorean).
The band’s set consisted of a lot of 3/4 pop jams. Madeline Follin did her best soul singer impression as she wailed over the crisp musical palette her bandmates laid out for her. Cults were an entertaining and interesting teaser before the marquee act. Maps and Atlases opened their set with two songs from Perch Patchwork, the band’s latest album and first full-length. “Ted Zancha,” the closing song from their EP, You and Me and the Mountain, was the first non-Perch song the band played. The song, in so many ways, is the close to a chapter in the band’s existence. While their first two EPs, Tree, Swallows, Houses and Mountain, showcased the band’s technical flair while hinting at their melodic potential, their latest flipped that equation. Not to mention the EPs were released on Sargent House, home to such furious fretboard phenoms as Russian Circles and Fang Island, while the full-length came out via Barsuk, the label that inadvertently sold a million thick frame glasses and knit sweaters when they released Death Cab for Cutie’s indie-rock touchstone, Transatlanticism.
|Maps & Atlases at Emo’s|
The band’s set was heavy on new material, which I have yet to actually buy. I’ve only had a few listens to my friend’s copy, but the music still sounded great. “Israeli Caves” became one of my favorite songs when I first heard it on their MySpace. “Witch” is one of the catchiest, most infectious songs about divination that I have ever been privileged to listen to. The band played the entire Mountain EP and “Every Place is a House,” from Tree, Swallows, Houses. The band did not play an encore but they shocked fans in a completely different way when they played “Glamorous Glowing” from Dave Davison’s solo project Cast Spells. The band’s sound translated beautifully into the crowded inside room at Emo’s. People were either trying to pick their jaw up from the floor or spazzing out to the stop/start rhythm of songs like “Every Place is a House.” The experience was beautiful and while it’s refreshing to hear the band continue to evolve, it’s also nice just to be able to go to their shows and flop around in a herky-jerky motion for an hour.
The fifth member of the band, Davison’s beard, which I will call Earl, was epic and unruly as always. Earl nailed all his beard solos, slept with three groupies after the show and threw a television from the 20th story of the band’s hotel later that night.
Maps & Atlases, The Globes and Cults performed at Emo’s in Austin on July 26, 2010.