Map of Africa - s/t
a recent post on Gorilla vs. Bear that declared the band's "Bone" one of the highlights of May. GvB Chris was dead-on as usual. Shortly after snagging the tune, I had to hear the debut in its entirety. I spent nearly all weekend with this thing playing almost non-stop and the self-titled album is one of the most interesting things I've heard in awhile. This stuff lends itself incredibly well to clever descriptions such as these ones referencing "Bone": "swampy psych-rock jam...scoring a chopper scene in some ill Vietnam flick" (GvB Chris), "makes me want to drive around town in a Z28 with the windows rolled down...hang out with chicks in cut-off jean shorts and dudes wearing headbands...and give people more high-fives" (GvB commenter Jared), and "muggy summer night outside on patio with beer in hand & cig in mouth jam of '07" (Christi).
Map of Africa comes out of the gate strong with a knockout cover of the Equals’ “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”. The tune sounds gloriously out-of-step with the current musical climate and is one of best straight-ahead rock songs I've heard all year. The opening three tunes pull off a down-n-dirty classic rock 'n roll swagger much more convincingly than any retro-revivalists out there currently. While there are obvious sonic reference points, Map of Africa do so without sounding particularly indebted to any one musical era. "Gonna Ride" employs a confident Dire Straits-type strut fleshed out with a ZZ Top guitar tone and occasional lead figures. This track formally introduces the sexed-up lyrical content and feel of the album and while the lyrics are sometimes purposefully kinda cheesy ("she was a skater dater/coordinator/four door hatch-back two days later"), they fit the tone of the music to a T. "Dirty Lovin'" is the most overtly sexual song here and also contains an obvious nod to ZZ Top.
A midsection containing more ambient material follows the killer opening trio. While the funky, low key "Freaky Ways" is a highlight and easily accessible, the title track/band namesake and the instrumentals ("Creation Myth", "Ely Cathedral", and "Western Love") mostly serve to aid in giving the album an overall arc. The track 4-8 trek initially comes across as self-indulgent, but upon a more attentive listen(s), the track sequencing starts making a whole lot more sense.
It's on "Bone" where the album's second half really starts warming up. The two proceeding tracks are fine; it's just that the strength of the first and last quarter of the album overshadows the other material a bit. You need only refer to the descriptions of "Bone" included supra for an indication of the track's awesomeness. The penultimate track "Snake Fingers" finds the band returning to the guitar-driven classic rock feel of the album's first quarter and the fine closer "Here Come the Heads" may be the best Dire Straits tune Mark Knopfler never wrote.
Map of Africa's Harvey Bassett and Thomas Bullock are more commonly known as club DJs and this suggests the duo laid out the track sequence with an overarching theme and feel in mind. Upon my first couple of listens, I thought the midsection was flabby and the more ambient material was mostly mere filler. It's tempting to write off this album as uneven due to the instantly and insanely enjoyable tunes bookending the album, but stick with it-- in short order, it begins to reveal itself as a record with considerable depth and definite grower potential.
Buy the LP here.
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