Beware

Indie rock group Maps and Atlases gets funked-up for their latest release, Beware and Be Grateful. Channeling artists like Prince, the band explores a more electronic sound, while maintaining their definitive sound. (Photo courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity).

“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

Rock group Maps and Atlases will be playing a handful of shows, including a performance at the Filter Magazine's Culture Collide event. (Photo courtesy of Maps and Atlases).

What: Filter Magazine's Culture Collide
When: March 16, 1-5 p.m.
Where: Bar 96 (96 Rainey St.)
*RSVP; badgeholders welcome
 
What: Barsuk Records Showcase
When: March 15, 1:10-1:50 a.m.
Where: Red Eyed Fly
*Badgeholders/wristbands welcome
 
What: The Windish Agency Showcase
When: March 16, 11-11:40 p.m.
Where: ND

*Badgeholders/wristbands welcome

Math-rock ensemble Maps and Atlases have never backed away from a challenge. Their technical, finger-tapped guitar parts flourishing over dynamic drums attests to that. Although the group has evolved from their complex beginnings, Maps and Atlases continues to push themselves, and experiment with new ideas and sounds, resulting in their latest album, Beware and Be Grateful. Retaining the group's love for intricate guitar parts, while showcasing influences that range from Brian Eno to Prince, the group's forthcoming effort makes it evident that they love change, and embrace exploration.

Guitarist Erin Elders spoke with The Daily Texan about memorable performances in Austin, being influenced by Prince and finding a balance between textures and technicality.

The Daily Texan: From what I've heard from your latest album, Beware and Be Grateful, you guys have gone in a direction that's really different from your older releases. What influenced the change? Is it more so just trying to incorporate new sounds and elements into your music?

Erin Elders: Yeah. I mean I think everything has been a pretty steady evolution, and with both Perch Patchwork and Beware and Be Grateful, we wanted to explore textures. With this album we just experimented with other instrumentation; there's keyboard sounds, and crazy guitar parts that we have never done before. That's where a lot of this record came from; we wanted to retain the energy of our past releases, while being textural.

DT: Were there certain groups you guys listened to recently that contributed to the band's new sound?

Elders: We've always been influenced by artists like David Bowie and the Talking Heads, and on this album we leaned more towards the Brian Eno era of Bowie. It influenced us a ton, but it acted as more of an interesting guide for us.

DT: Is there a Prince influence on the album as well? When I first heard "Remote and Dark Years," I could hear a little bit of Purple Rain era Prince.

Elders: That's actually true; you hit the nail on the head. I think a perfect example is the guitar solo on "Silver Self;" it's like a Prince solo. We have been listening to a lot of Prince over the years, so it's definitely an influence on this record. Good ear!

DT: I just find it really impressive that you guys have tried out this new direction, while retaining the sound that has been a part of the band for a long time.

Elders: Yeah. This album may be a far-shot away from Prince, but what makes him such a great artist is just how fearless he is. We did many things on this album that, when we were 20, we never would have thought possible. Like, 'there's no way we can have a bursting guitar solo; that'd be crazy!' But I think those are the kind of choices you make when you're trying something new on an album. We were really excited about the songs; allowing our ideas to do what they wanted to do, and giving 100% to ensure that they work.

DT: How has it been so far with your new record label Barsuk Records, and being a part of a roster with the likes of Ra Ra Riot, Death Cab for Cutie and Cymbals Eat Guitars?

Elders: It's an honor to be a part of the Barsuk family, and we still feel the same way about Sargent House [the group's past label]. Sargent House is very communal; we're still very close to a lot of the bands on their roster. But it's been great working with both; we've toured with Ra Ra Riot before in the past, and through them met the people at Barsuk, and it just made sense. So it's been great.

DT: How was your performance at last year's Lollapalooza, and were you able to catch any acts that you wanted to see?

Elders: It was an incredible experience for me; we definitely felt really honored to be playing it, considering that we're from Chicago. The show was the most incredible and terrifying thing ever; prior to Lollapalooza we had just finished a northwest tour with RX Bandits, and we had been playing all of these clubs that we were used to playing. So, it didn't even occur to me that we were playing this massive stage at Lollapalooza, until after the fact. I didn't ask for anything in my monitors, so I couldn't hear anything; it was like this large wind tunnel in front of me, and who knows how many people, who were there for the show. I was able to catch most of Black Lips' set, and some of Death From Above's set too.

DT: Continuing on about Chicago, how is being a part of such an eclectic musical scene, considering it has groups like Joan of Arc and Cap'n Jazz, and hip hop artists like The Cool Kids, Common and Kanye West?

Elders: It's kind of crazy; when we first started playing shows, they would usually be at an art space or someone's house, and you would have a singer-songwriter band, us and then a more straight-ahead rock type band. It's a great thing for music; we're definitely proud to be from here.

DT: How does it feel to be returning to Austin for SXSW? Any acts you hope to see and any memorable moments performing in Austin?

Elders: One of our favorite shows of all time was in Austin. It was during SXSW a few years ago, and we were playing this late show like around two or three in the morning. It was in this artist co-op, and Andrew W.K. was the headliner. The energy was incredible and there were so many people at this place. People hanging off rafters; it was just an amazing show, with the most insane crowd ever. That is a show we always talk about, and is a part of the SXSW insanity. Every year we say we're not going to do it, and then we end up doing SXSW. We're looking forward to it for sure.