Photo by Chris Hainey
Will Schube has a spinny globe on his desk.
When Maps & Atlases last released a record, they were ostensibly a math rock band. Folk and pop quirks protruded from the edges, the music more nerdy than pretentious, but the band’s (square) roots lied in numbers. This was back in 2012. The quartet had just released the slightly underwhelming Beware and Be Grateful, their second LP and the follow-up to their astounding debut, Perch Patchwork. Then, the group led by Dave Davison, sort of just fell off the map. A hiatus was announced, although it lasted longer than most hiatuses do, and when Davison returned with a set of songs channeling the grief of his father’s passing and intended for a solo release, the idea of a Maps & Atlases record didn’t cross his mind. But after enlisting the help of his bandmates—now a trio—the group fleshed out these solo songs and took them to places the band had never contemplated before.
“It’s hard for me to make songs that are really sincere about universal experiences and add my own unique perspective to these themes,” Davison explains over the phone from his home in Chicago. This is in part why he resisted turning the songs that now make up Lightlessness is Nothing New into a new Maps & Atlases record. These personal laments on his father’s passing felt too close, too disconnected from the world for Davison to include his bandmates on.
“The ultimate goal of the band is to show something people hopefully haven’t heard before, but hopefully it makes a lot of sense,” Davison says. In letting his collaborators in on the ideas he was playing with, Davison has brought the world into his orbit. He’s concocted a uniquely skewed LP—Lightlessness is poppy and earnest without ever becoming saccharine. The songs are stripped and straightforward, a far call from the band’s first two LPs, but in this straightforwardness is a relatability the band had previously shied away from.
The album opens with “The Fear,” a honking romp of a track, with Davison’s signature yelp conveying the anxiety of the song’s title over the propulsion of looped hi-hats and chanting drums. The choruses on Lightlessness are more immediate than on any other Maps & Atlases LP. In the six years off, Dave Davison really learned how to write a hook.
“Violet Threaded” sounds like an actually cool version of that Gotye earworm that was everywhere that one summer, lurking and jumping with a staccato bassline and buzzy hums from Davison. The sounds Davison and his bandmates conjure here are totally unique to the Maps & Atlases experience. There are deeper dimensions, stronger layers to this album.
“We didn’t feel like there was a particular sense of urgency where we needed to sacrifice anything for the sake of time. If something wasn’t how we wanted it to be, we had time to think about it and work on it,” Davison recalls. The band’s pause at its perceived apex wasn’t just a hiatus or the mourning process working itself out; Maps & Atlases deliberately exited what can be the toxic cycle of recording to tour ad nauseam. By distancing himself from the work, Dave Davison has returned with his most clear and coherent statement to date. “We wanted to have a sense of purpose behind making a record,” he adds.
With Lightlessness is Nothing New, Dave Davison has found it. His band sounds refreshed and comes across more brightly than before. From sadness, solitude, and pain comes the band’s most communal album yet. In it, Davison has abandoned the styles of yore and figured out that the numbers don’t always add up. A revelation indeed.