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Maps & Atlases with The Big Sleep, Sister Crayon

Fri. 06/01 | 8:00PM

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Abraham Lincoln once said, “I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back.” The same holds true for fellow sons of the Prairie State, Maps & Atlases, who, despite a flurry of activity since their inception in 2006 are only now releasing their full-length debut. But it’s been worth the wait: Not only is Perch Patchwork the Chicago quartet’s first long player, it’s also their first masterpiece —a beautiful suite of songs that should rightly place the band in indie rock’s upper echelon. Where the band’s previous EPs (2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain) employed an arid, live sound, Perch Patchwork is a decidedly more humid affair. Though You and Me and The Mountain incorporated more acoustic instruments into the mix, Perch Patchwork finds Maps & Atlases filling their newfound space with strings, horns, assorted percussion, and a variety of toy instruments. From the opening trifecta of “Will”, “The Charm” and “Living Decorations” to the almost Soweto feel of “Pigeon,” and the gorgeous, swelling arrangement of the title track, Maps & Atlases have jettisoned much of the tautness of their previous work in order to let their songs breathe more deeply. 


This new atmosphere was due in no small part to the band’s decision to bring in producer Jason Cupp, whose credits include The Elected, Nurses and Cast Spells. With Cupp’s help Maps & Atlases began to deconstruct and rebuild its songs— in some cases changing the original arrangements completely. Cupp also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. For example, Cupp lightly punched singer / guitarist Dave Davison in the back while he was singing “The Charm” in order to achieve a more rhythmic vocal effect. “Jason is such a pro,” enthuses Davison. “We recorded the previous EPs so fast and so… live compared to this record. I definitely learned a lot. It’s really interesting to have different sounds on different parts of the song. It’s not just like ‘Okay. This is the drum sound. Sounds cool. This is the sound of the whole record.’” In this case, the drums were recorded in the B-room at Steve Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio, in Chicago. The rest of Perch Patchwork was tracked both in the band’s practice space and at Davison’s parents’ basement in Indiana. In fact, due to its comfort factor, Maps & Atlases do a lot of recording in that basement. Says Davison, “I like to take breaks. I’m gonna drink coffee and eat and go for a walk. There are no real distractions. It’s just all part of hanging out and making a record.” That and they get a great vocal sound in the bathroom.


Considering how quiet they’ve been over the past couple years, you’d think the Big Sleep decided to suddenly take their name seriously after the tireless tour cycle behind 2008’s Sleep Forever LP. The truth is much simpler… 


“We took a little break, worked on stuff separately and just lived our lives,” explains bassist/vocalist Sonya Balchandani. 


“It obviously took longer than we thought it would,” adds guitarist/vocalist Danny Barria, “but I wasn’t feeling rushed or pressured. I just wanted to write good songs.”   

Which brings us to the hefty hooks and sugar-spun noise pop ofNature Experiments, the filler-free full-length Danny and Sonya have hinted at since 2000. That'd be the year the duo started cutting demos in the former's Brooklyn kitchen; demos that eventually shifted from a loose shoegaze sound (the You Today, Me Tomorrow EP) to the iridescent instrumentals and groove-locked guitar anthems of the Big Sleep's debut album, 2006'sSon of the Tiger.

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