Maps & Atlases initially got the ball rolling with ‘05’s self-released Bird Barnyard EP, an impressionable commencement topped by the penetrating seven-song, 24-minute project, Tree, Swallows, Houses, unleashed by boutique label, Sargent House Records, although Tree, Swallows, Houses settles into a continuously unwinding “math rock” mosaic. Davison’s kaleidoscopic display of pinpricked chordal fury and hyper-tense freeform flailing proves to be most lucid on “The Most Trustworthy Tin Cans.” Fluttery guitar figures cluster inside the dashboard-lit homecoming ride, “Everyplace Is A House,” where Dada’s rumbled bass strips and Hainey’s clanging, clanking, and clacking drum-cymbal panoply rush by incessantly.
Its wider ranging five-song, 17-minute ’09 follow-up, You And Me And The Mountain, blends newfangled multi-harmonies into a frenetic template of jittery dual axe scampers and skewed rhythmic thrusts. The eclectic opener, “Witch,” seems to mingle nautical Modest Mouse or Decemberists sensitivity with wrenching Sonic Youth rage. Prettily floral circular guitar patterns nourish the steaming “Artichokes” while the snip-and-spliced “Daily News” moves along a tambourine-chimed ticking beat. And the folk-rooted title cut sprinkles tone-dialed fretwork across the most straightforward pleasantry assembled herein.
Dada elucidates, “Tree was the record where we decided where we were as a band. It had a purpose. The new EP, You And Me, builds on the ideas, but it’s more based on layers of technicalities. It’s more concise and shows more of our own personality. Trees’ songs move along in a live progression. Perhaps the first reaction to the new EP is it’s less technical. But it’s actually more so while staying in the groove better.”
Onstage at Maxwell’s, Davison takes charge, exchanging riffs with Elders and purging clipped baritone swipes that uncannily strike comparisons to Pete Townshend or Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker. The live set doesn’t stray far from the studio recordings on this cool March night. And the Dada-Hainey rhythm section stays solidly grounded. Worthy support bands So Many Dynamos (from East St. Louis) and Philly’s own Pattern Is Movement join M & A for a berserk tribal percussion jam that could’ve went on ad infinitum without a complaint. Like skilled virtuosos caught up trying to achieve idiosyncratic revelry, these valiant art school alumni may boggle the mind with abstruse neo-prog explorations, but ultimately, they aim for an enduring legacy several ageless progenitors have procured over time.
Davison remembers, “My dad told me to get into (jazz-rock fusion trailblazers) Mahavishnu Orchestra and their guitarist, John Mc Laughlin, when I was young. But I couldn’t appreciate that until I was in this band. Hopefully, we’ll be durable enough to gain a nice foothold.”
As an addendum, I must admit M & A were unobtrusive houseguests, balking at liquor and food offers and merely sipping a few cups of coffee the morning after. I guess they don’t need much fuel to get sufficiently energized for the next gig where another compelled audience gets to see ‘em shape-shifting alluringly asymmetrical paradigms without sacrificing rudimentary rock perspicacity for sheer technical ecstasy.
Catch Maps & Atlases at the Trocadero in Philly on Oct. 2 and at the new Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, NY, on Oct. 4. mapsandatlases.org.