Look forward to looking back
It’s a book of memories, some more recent than others. It might be obvious which ones are older memories, but a lot of them are not entirely happy memories with lyrics like: “Cold and warm at once,” “I still feel you around me like the remnants of a ringing bell” and “I’m not turning my back.” The sound itself isn’t a throwback the way Bruno Mars’s sound is; it feels like present/contemporary indie rock, but the songs themselves feel familiar. Maps & Atlases’ new album, Lightlessness is Nothing New, is subtly special.
The opener is a recent summer memory, a mid-summer someone reflecting on events just a month and a half old. It’s bright, flourished with hi-hats, guitar and a strange opener. The chorus chants, “No I’m not turning back / No I’m not turning my back” in “The Fear.” The song would be more at home as one of the last three tracks of the ten, but it does a fair job of establishing the feel and instrumentation of the album, whic is, at times, frantic, but at the start of a second listen, necessary. “Fall Apart” sees good lyrics meeting catchy vocal lines, though not necessarily at the same points in the song. It’s the kind of song Coldplay wishes they wrote, though the instrumental is not quite something Chris Martin and Co. would normally churn out. It’s a worried man struggling between diplomacy and telling the truth and a solid contribution to the world of music.
Only those lacking any emotional wiring are unfamiliar with the idea of always having something on the mind, whether or not it’s a person, an event, a song, etc. “Ringing Bell” has a chorus that stays, featuring an uncommon analogy for the aforementioned mental phenomenon: “I still feel you around me like the remnants of a ringing bell.” Once it’s out there, it makes sense and can easily be pictured, but it’s never what people think of first when stuck thinking about someone. See the teacher after class, Maps & Atlases; she would like to have a word with you about your writing. While this number isn’t really a specific memory, it reminds us what it’s like to have memories live on, whether or not they are wanted.
Next is one of those scenes in a movie where the gears (literal or metaphorical) start turning into motion, as a new project begins and reflections of a time most similar re-enter the brain. “Violet Threaded” is attempting change while acknowledging that we build upon our past, even if the past included some shady missteps. “Fog and the Fall” opens right away with just Dave Davison’s vocals, proudly displaying the products of his catchiness gene (a skill that he unexpectedly possesses). It’s thinking back to the lively days in the spring before it gets too hot out, while the “school is almost over” feels take the wheel. A recent memory, to be sure, but not exclusively so.
Taking songwriting lessons from Foo Fighters’ “Have it All” comes “Learn How to Swim.” One of the less dazzling tracks, it seems the least like a memory, yet it fits in with the other nine just fine. “Super Bowl Sunday” tips its hat at Kanye’s “Runaway” with the piano-on-the-offbeats, and Davison’s singing on this just takes the heart on a well-earned detour. It’s a reminder of what less common emotions feel like. The most meaningful crush, a first kiss, combating jealousy—all crucial memories that lead us to where we are today, but moments that saw us facing challenges, unsure of what was going to happen next, all the while knowing that things will be okay. The guitar adds an interesting touch, the kind of detail that people would miss in a photo comparison of “find the five different things between these two pictures.”
Like “Fall Apart,” “War Dreams” sounds like a song Coldplay wish they wrote, complete with a catchy vocal part that is simply sounds, not lyrics. It triggers memories only when the typically extroverted character takes a minute (or three minutes and fifty-six seconds) away from the party to think back to some of the times he/she changed—the one-tear moments. “4/25,” the penultimate track, is a tipsy lad trying to recount a story to some friends of his, but spending strange amounts of time on odd details, such as “there’s a couple kissing on the corner.” His friends are unsure where he’s going with this poorly articulated tale, but it just might be a memory locked in his brain forever.
At last, there is “Wrong Kind of Magic.” *happily sighs* This track is a perfect album closer that will induce tears if enough attention is paid. This is one of those memories held dearest: the times “goodbye” was the last thing that anyone wanted to say or hear, the realization that dissatisfaction was merely the building blocks of a new step in life or the day a kindergarten best friend moved away. These imperfect memories, the ones that make occasional appearances, give routine a run for its money. Uncertainty and beauty abound, Maps & Atlases deserves thanks and praise for this song in particular and this album as a whole. Consider contacting them to petition a name change to “Memories are Nothing New,” and, of course, give it a few listens!