Mappa Mundi is a chamber pop band from Brooklyn and its five members hail from various backgrounds, including punk, jazz, Americana, and classical chamber music; while many groups are composed of musicians from varying backgrounds, few have successfully merged those influences as well as this outfit. Every song on this EP sounds different, yet coherent, as if Murder By Death, Voltaire, and R.E.M sat down to write an album together. At Sea, in keeping with its classical chamber influences, follows an almost symphonic form, with “So Obscure” and “Out Here” acting as the first movement, or sonata, “Mirabelle” being the adagio, “Right” and “Lost” as the minuet, and “A Blunt Object, Oh Robert” as the rondo, or final movement.
“So Obscure” and “Out Here” are both relatively upbeat, and introduce the themes of the album in a mid-tempo, lively way, creating an Americana-soaked orchestral house band sound. With acoustic guitar strums, light drum and string presence, and singer Adam Levine’s slight vocal twang, the first track has a clearly country vibe, however, this is quickly traded off for a waltz-style rhythm with heavy string and electric guitar punctuation, as well as soaring trumpet solos, and deceptively low-key verses.
The halfway point of At Sea is “Mirabelle,” a mostly acoustic ballad that builds up to include contrasting violin/cello melodies and a touching bassline, with drummer Matt Moore breaking in for a final chorus. “Right” mixes bittersweet lyrics with a deceitfully cheerful instrumentation, going so far as to introduce ukulele noodling throughout the song. “Lost,” the following track, includes heavily syncopated and uncommon rhythms with acoustic guitar picking, but builds up to an impressive ending that incorporates an electric guitar and violin sharing a melodic call-and-response.
“Now, I am become Death.” Lyrics like that are bound to get your attention, regardless of who’s singing them. Now add what sounds like a matador’s fanfare behind those lyrics, and you’ll hear the true power of the statement. The final track on Mappa Mundi’s At Sea is, by far, the strongest and longest one on the EP, running at over seven minutes. Dynamic changes rule “A Blunt Object, Oh Robert,” with periods of silence separating the reserved verses from the overdramatic choruses quoting Robert Oppenheimer, who himself was quoting the Bhagavad Gita.
What started as a simple indie band playing a country-influenced love song transformed into a small orchestra dismantling centuries of musical evolution, and repurposing them into an amazing self-contained symphony.