Maps is beautifully dense, mirroring the man-made (electronic) against a natural backdrop. Maps is Jerome Alexander’s third LP as Message To Bears. In it, he bravely dares to expand his musical palette with a greater emphasis on the electronic, which has increased substantially. Still, Alexander’s lovely, wind-swept vocals and the guitar’s melodic spray of blown kisses are still here and as serene as ever, never losing the familiar sound that came to define his earlier output.
The electronics sit easily beside the peaceable guitar melodies, casting even more colour onto the sound and sprinkling its wide, shimmering, textured glow like sunlight twinkling over the deep blue ocean. Never one to stay still, Maps is a mature record, but it is still young at heart and free in spirit.
It’s the sound of the ‘Sun Breaking Through’. The finger-plucked melody sets the tempo – not the percussion – taking over the drum’s duties in this respect. The drum then gives the tempo some rhythmic definition, pushing it forward, but lightly so. The padded beats are just a touch above the lighter guitar, without submerging the crisp notes and their clarity. Slowly, the music ascends, an air bubble of optimism that cannot burst or be dampened.
The tones shimmer over the sung vocal, mixing into different, cooler pools and leaving eclectic timbres in their wake. On some occasions, the tones sound like they might’ve come from the coolest pedal-board in history. The electronic side radiates a lovely warm texture which then wraps itself lovingly over the voice. The gentle progression is cushion soft and fresh, but it’s also intent on rushing through you in an exhilarating flow of sound, refilling you anew after every track.
They are songs of peace, dappled with the glittering colours of magenta and deep blue, coalescing to produce a haven of sound. The synths, sprinkled with light foam, are the bearers of harmony. The electronic beats are never abrasive or harsh; it’s a perfect demonstration that they can and do have an introverted side to their usual, ceaseless thump.
Rain falls on ‘Rather Stay’ – the beat is a thumper that blinks out the thin, deeper harmony. It could be the sound of a lover’s heartbeat, mixed in with the gentle intimacy of the rain. Hot on the heels is the track ‘You Are A Memory’, which seems to evoke the sadness of loss, made audible through the weeping of the strings, discharging its tears over the lost voice. It shares the same level of intimacy as ‘Rather Stay’, but the mood is very different. Where before the kiss had lingered, and the only expression in the sweet moment was a smile, the embrace now rewinds and reverses, separated forever, never to be chained together again. The vocal repeats its anguish as if it were a ghost trauma-trapped between the Earth and the spiritual realm, ‘calling for the last time’.
The strings, guitar, viola and violin showcase Alexander’s love for instrumental variation. Because of that, Maps is a colourful tributary of sound, branching out through many different rivulets of gentle innovation like an intricately designed map, courtesy of a skilled cartographer. Despite the variety, the instruments share the same emotions, the same feel, transcending their unique barriers effortlessly until they form a collective whole.
It’s a pyramid of sound that, stone by stone, steadily ascends to the tip of the pinnacle. The gentle ambient swell on ‘Closed Doors’ begins to close the shutters, but it is at this point we reach the heights of the album; it’s a sound that you could never tire of. Maps is the safe refuge, located somewhere in the wilderness. The light bursts out of the lake, leaving a thousand ripples on the still water. Maps shines with a similar brilliance, and it is intensely beautiful because of it.