“We have been listening to a lot of Prince over the years, so it’s definitely an influence on this record,” said Maps and Atlases guitarist Erin Elders of the group’s latest album, Beware and Be Grateful in an interview with The Daily Texan during this year’s South By Southwest. In renovating their sound by following a more new-wave, ’80s funk direction, the band takes a new and unpredictable approach on their second full-length album.
The influence seems unlikely — Maps and Atlases, who have often been praised by critics and fans alike for their odd time signatures and intricate dueling guitar parts (a genre more commonly known as math-rock), don’t come off as Prince fans upon listening through their discography. Until now, that is. Beware and Be Grateful is Maps and Atlases’ funky road less traveled.
Take album-opener “Old and Gray” for example. Reminiscent of Prince’s 1999, “Old and Gray” moves creepily with moody chords that grow with layered vocals from frontman Dave Davidson. Strangely, it works. Davidson imitates Prince’s falsetto-to-low-mumble singing technique precisely, but primarily relies on his own mountain-man nasal drawl to retain that definitive Maps and Atlases sound.
Songs like “Old and Gray” and “Remote and Dark Years” shine because of Davidson’s funk-laced vocal delivery. On the latter song, the vocalist may be at his best. It’s not necessarily the lyrics that make “Remote and Dark Years” so great, but rather the way he says a certain word. How he repeats “I” in the chorus, which receives the shrill and desperate reply “Don’t want anymore,” paints a tale of absolute sorrow. It’s like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” — you can’t help but want to slow-dance and cry at the same time.
It’s kind of a 1980s dance party with Maps and Atlases on this album, but they still retain what makes them Maps and Atlases. “Be Three Years Old” has that Peter Gabriel tribal guitar that encompassed much of Maps and Atlases 2010 LP, Perch Patchwork, while “Bugs” has the folksy, finger-tapped/picked electric guitar technique that has been a staple of the band’s sound since their inception. Unlike past releases though, the guitar is secondary. The band has incorporated new instruments and other sounds, using the guitar to emphasize a certain melody or progression in the song.
Although you won’t be seeing Maps and Atlases bringing Purple Rain-era neon suits, heels and makeup back (although Davidson’s beard with a touch of neon blue might be great to see), it’s impressive that the band takes inspiration from such unforeseen sources on Beware and Be Grateful, all while maintaining the creativity and energy that has made them so great in the first place.
Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Band finds unusual influence in Prince