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After a long six years out of the game, Maps & Atlases return with a new LP. Anyone expecting the time-signature acrobatics of math-rock milestones like Perch Patchwork will need to leave those preconceptions at the door though, because what we have here is a full-on indie-dance record. Lightly funky in that sort of The Antlers/Reflektor-era Arcade Fire way, Lightlessness Is Nothing New is straight-up pop music.

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Lightlessness Is Nothing New by Maps & Atlases
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7/10 Robin Staff review, 11 July 2018

A band now half themselves, Maps & Atlases originally appealed to the legions of math rock faithful, pioneering an accessible version of a genre that was a little harder, and a little colder, without them. Their early EPs may have tapped out tectonic shifts at maddening rates, but as an LP band they’ve been in a constant state of straightening up and flying right, making records with the charm of folk rock and the influence of Prince. Inspired by the passing of Dave Davison’s father, their new record is a gorgeously bright retort to grief and dwelling, a boogieing rock record that picks melancholy up from its seat and gets it dancing along.

Developing along the melodic and often funky lines ‘Beware and Be Grateful’ instigated, Maps & Atlases’ new record begins as a full on embrace of low-key and subtly tinged pop music, saying what it needs to say with only the absolute required amount of fanfare. It can be poignant, but never makes anything out of it: the gorgeous “Ringing Bell” is an ode to Davison’s father that rolls into place on tang guitar and a rumbling bassline, the chorus coming forth with a mantra: “I still feel you around me like the remnants of a ringing bell”. The wonderful “Fall Apart” is marked with a sweet, wordless chorus, wielding emotion and then holding it in place.

Maps & Atlases will always try things, regardless of what kind of record they’re intending to make, so they make a sharp turn on proceedings on “Violet Threaded”, a sleuthing ditty that pronounces itself with acoustic guitars before turning into a kind of Western pop romp. It sounds like Coheed & Cambria meeting Chad VanGaalen. “Learn How To Swim” is a strange and terse song built on looped vocals and stray piano chords, its sparsity only making it feel busier and more dramatic. That these moments come on a record that seems more at home with tunes like “War Dreams” is quite something -- even when Maps & Atlases are doing like TV on the Radio and making a peaceful, compromising pop rock record, they sound out of place. And they’re better for it.


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