Has there ever been a more clearly defined genre than post-rock? Okay, there may be an almost infinite number of minuscule refinements and permutations but really on the whole it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s a disservice to lump Mr. Maps into this catch-all bucket but then you could say that about a whole myriad of bands and their small variations. Could anyone, blindfolded and handcuffed, if they were to hear a piece of music for the first time tell whether it was Do Make Say Think or 65daysofstatic or Mogwai or…. We are obviously being facetious but, like most bands of this ilk, there cannot fail to be at least a subtle sense of mimicry here. Perhaps this is no more unfortunate than the number of metal bands churning out the same riffs that we have heard since 1983, however post-rock is especially singled out for its lack of innovation.
Playing with the conventions of both their genre and the double disc release, Mr. Maps confound by releasing their debut EP with both a studio and live recording of the exact same set of songs. Now we are using the word “exact” loosely as obviously this would defeat the entire point. While many bands are famed for their incendiary live shows, and others purely for their studio recorded material, Mr. Maps — by releasing the both sides of themselves on their EP side by side — have left both open to assessment here. It must be pointed out at the same time that having two discs of essentially the same material (albeit with all the intricacy and nuances that these can bring) is not what the majority of the record buying punter is looking for but this doesn’t seem to have entered into their heads at all.
Breaking the mould that many before them have slipped into — namely quiet, loud, quiet, LOUD — was always going to be an uphill battle, but probably Mr. Maps greatest achievement is to weave a more delicate cloth than most. There is an obvious precise nature to the music here but it’s the human heart that makes this record special. Rather than layering walls of feedback, hoping that the listener cannot discern what is contained within, Mr. Maps are refreshing by not being afraid to let their sound to grow organically. This may be evident by the fact we have two versions to compare, however this would seem to be a subtle welcome accident. It’s where the differences lie that slowly begins to tell. Allowing their piano to the fore on “This Mess is a Place” to spar with intricate jazz drumming lends them an air of refinement which could easily be lost in other hands.
The confounding moment comes with “‘Til the Money Outruns Us”. Where most would have easily slipped in another scuzzy feedback middle eight, here Mr. Maps completely blindside us. On one disc we have an adequate enough version, a tad obvious and prone to signaling exactly where each next key change will be. Come the next disc it seems that there has been an entire turn around, where first we had a half thought out idea, now we have a fully realized expansive piece. Gorgeous samples blended with elaborate cut guitars create a vivid sound-scape that is both hushed and uplifting. No mean feat.
It cannot be stressed enough that what really marks Mr. Maps out is what they have simply left out. Rather than blindly following the route others have been incredibly successful with, they should be applauded for trying to cut forth from these confines and create something different. While they may not always be successful it’s refreshing to find a band who is deliberately doing things the hard way.