It would be difficult to quantify the sonic evolution of Maps & Atlases over the course of their nearly 20-year history, simply because they have displayed so much creative diversity that they seem to evolve from track to track rather than between albums or tours. The once-quartet/now-trio has been variously described as Indie Rock, Math Rock and Alternative Rock, and their sound has elements of Electronic Pop, Prog and the numerous subsets of Indie Rock and Post-whatever. But genre tags serve to describe but not define Maps & Atlases.
The band formed when its four original members — guitarist/vocalist Dave Davison, guitarist Erin Elders, bassist Shiraz Dada and drummer Chris Hainey — met as art students at Columbia College Chicago in 2004. As fans of the powerful nuance of Don Caballero and the indescribable tumult of Hella, the foursome was attempting to forge a sound that was precise and cerebral while remaining organic. Maps & Atlases’ first official release was the 2006 EP Tree, Swallows, Houses, which garnered a good deal of critical praise; the band toured for two years on the EP and eventually inked a contract with renowned management firm/record label Sargent House, which reissued the EP in 2007.
While Maps & Atlases has been a constant presence on the road, the band’s discography is relatively slim; five official and unofficial EPs and three full-length albums, including the new Lightlessness is Nothing New. After touring on 2012 sophomore album Beware and Be Grateful, the band went on an indefinite hiatus, a period that was marked by the individual members’ work on side and solo projects and the departure of Elders, who shifted gears and has become an in-demand video director.
Reduced to a trio, Maps & Atlases continued to play shows without replacing Elders, which dramatically shifted the band’s onstage dynamics. Davison began working on songs for his Cast Spells solo project, inspired partly by the passing of his father, and he asked Dada and Hainey to contribute, which led to the ultimate realization that they weren’t making a Cast Spells album but a new Maps & Atlases record. Like its predecessors in the Maps & Atlases catalog, Lightlessness has moments of danceable inscrutability, much like Talking Heads, but there are also the ever-present elements that have made Maps & Atlases a consistent critical and fan favorite for two solid decades.
Click here for more info on this free show, part of Fountain Square's weekend "Fifth & Vine Live" music series.