Maps & Atlases marketed its 2010 debut Perch Patchwork as a blend of math-rock and indie pop, but the record’s moments of convention were mostly lost inside long-winded displays of detailed complexity. On the follow-up, Beware And Be Grateful, the Chicago band injects just enough focus and fluidity to make the songs fun, without compromising to the point of becoming another arty, African-inspired Vampire Weekend rip-off. With airy harmonies, polyrhythmic melodies, and inventive time-signature experiments, Beware And Be Grateful has plenty to please both casual listeners and angular-prog purists (assuming such people exist). Across 10 eclectic tracks, the album tinkers with the ratio of fidgety fretwork to catchy choruses, wisely refraining from the algorithmic geek-outs that made parts of Perch Patchwork such a slog. That doesn’t mean the group has abandoned its identity, however—even their sunniest hum-alongs are packed into asymmetrical constructions, and nothing feels like a sacrifice of substance.
Thankfully, those who lack the patience for brainy guitar calculations don’t have to search long for the catchier material, as Beware And Be Grateful frontloads its most accessible and enjoyable songs. Though the ambling opener “Old & Gray” meanders a bit too long, it segues into the bubbling, bright “Fever,” a highlight of the band’s catalog to date. Showing newfound discipline, Maps & Atlases gives each of the track’s diverse layers a purpose, as shimmering electronics underscore ripples of prickly guitar, and bright harmonies float with a flowing momentum. “Fever” then rolls into the tight bustle of “Winter,” a jittery rush of plucked and double-tapped strings.
On the group’s previous recordings, this type of sophisticated clamor was often difficult to appreciate beyond an intellectual level: Perch Patchwork showcased a technical proficiency that was undeniably impressive, but also kind of boring. This time around, unnecessary clutter has been trimmed, making room for an expansive atmosphere that’s well-suited to Dave Davison’s folkie, full-throated vocals. Overall, Beware And Be Grateful strikes a more satisfying balance of post-rock creativity and songcraft. With diverse styles and an array of instrumental tricks, the record is interesting and ambitious, without feeling trapped in a nerdy niche.