The Map Room – Weatherless (No Label) ALBUM REVIEW

There’s a lot to like about Weatherless, the debut album by New Zealand duo The Map Room. I know, let’s count them, just for fun!

1) The recording is super-clear, which means you can hear every little tinkle. 2) There’s never too much going on at any one time, so there are no nasty sonic clashes, and consequently, there’s plenty of space to hear every little tinkle. 3) Each song is embedded with a profusion of melodic touches, from the main (usually sing-along choruses) to the little wordless curlicues that constantly pop up, and the perfectly placed instrumental parts. 4) Those subsidiary parts, whether played by guitar or keyboard, always sound delectable, almost edible. 5) The same is true of the percussion, which in my imagination is programmed rather than performed in the conventional sense, but is more than a bit player, and is also pleasing to the ear. [Note: I’m told that there is a “real” drummer on this record, though that’s not obvious to the casual listener]. 6) It’s a gentle type of pop record that never gets aggressive or finds any need for a flourish of machismo. 7) It feels like something intimate, like you’re friends with the band and you’re having a conversation in their bedsit.

But there’s always a downside, right? Hey, I know, let’s count the things about Weatherless that might put you off. Here goes!

1) Most of the vocals are sung in a ‘sensitive’ falsetto that hardly varies from track to track, and outside of being sensitive, isn’t very expressive. 2) Those vocals get top marks for consistency, but consistently put me to sleep, which mean that I find it impossible to concentrate on lyrics that are apparently ‘addressing themes of displacement and motion”. 3) While the gentle instrumentation is very nice, it all ends up sounding a bit restrained and fey, and you long for at least the occasional scream into the uncaring abyss called life. 4) There was a most excellent group in the 1980s called Frazier Chorus who remind me a lot of The Map Room in both the gentleness of the music and the low-key nature of the vocals, but there’s a distinction that exposes the flaw in Weatherless: Frazier Chorus sounded really pleasant, but their lyrics were infused with scabrous wit and downright scorn, giving it all a wonderful contrast to the sound of the music. A typical Map Room lyric, on the other hand, is fairly humdrum and slice of life.

Weatherless sounds like it was made to comfort and reassure the lost and the lonely and those sensitive souls who can’t handle a loud guitar or the savagery of everyday life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re not all descended from vikings, after all. Those who find solace in its profound lack of edge, pastel electronics and Protooled antiseptic sonics might clasp it to their hearts.

I guess Weatherless is a good name for it, because this album exists in a kind of limbo land, a cotton-wool universe where no storms are aloud, or allowed.

 

[Note: Gary Steel reserves the right to reappraise and alter his star ratings up or down at any time].

 

 

 

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