Maps of Norway, Die Off Songbird

Maps of Norway, Die Off Songbird

Minneapolis indie outfit Maps of Norway has released their second album, Die Off Songbird, touting somewhat elevated guitar ramblings and vocal presence over their first outing. Featuring ex-Vespertine Jeff Ball (drums) and Eric Hanson (guitars), ex-Unbelievable Jolly Machine Matt Helgeson (bass), and newcomer Rebecca Leigh (vocals), the group has put together a close-dozen collection of new songs this time around that continues to revel in the band’s personal brand of largely dance-style music.

By and large, the majority of cuts here range between impressionistic takes on multi-layered instrumentals with electronica flavorings and heavy-on-the-beat dance numbers that lean much more toward post-punk retreads of ’80s New Wave styles than any of their ’70s disco predecessors. All of this is decoratively, yet sporadically, enhanced by Leigh’s smooth, scale-traveling vocal injections.

The set kicks off rather mysterious-sounding with “Blues 1,” a short intro piece that slowly fades in and builds into a synth-sampled mix of audio pulses resembling — strangely enough — a close facsimile of what’s used in audio hearing tests. From that point on, the band deals out wave after wave of cascading melody, driven by either overlapping or echoing instrumental parts throughout. The album’s overall disposition reflects wide swathes of moodiness that move from rather murky hazes of heavily-reverbed instrumental doodling to more straight-forward rock numbers fueled by more mainstream rhythmic filling. They know how to double and relay individual parts quite well, even in the slower and smoother sections, and they do an impressive job at taking a repeated chord progression and swelling it into a charging romp.

Though there are certainly some brilliant moments in Hanson’s lead guitar passages, Leigh’s voice laydowns are the abundantly dominant stand-out feature for the band. Albeit quite artsy, the final mix chosen on several songs reduces her vocalized presence and utterances to a co-equal level in the pack. While these few takes do succeed in producing an “added-instrument” effect for her crooning, as a by-product, they also muddle-up her lyrical articulation, making the words to these songs almost completely incomprehensible.

To my ears, the best songs of the collection begin in mid-album, where “The Runout,” “Tyranny Is Over,” “Ex-Ghost,” and “Polo Grounds” fill out more pleasing exhibitions that bear hints of the likes of Blondie and David Bowie, with Leigh very effectively pulling off belts and slides that mirror early-’80s femmes like Debbie Harry or even the quasi-operatic glissando runs of Pat Benatar.

Maps of Norway has delivered a second attempt that is not a thoroughly easy listen. If you have the wherewithal to wade through the impressionistic artistry that surrounds the meatier dance/rock segments, however, or you’ve enjoyed past-AOR where about half of the time is spent under a huge, dynamically-atmospheric instrumental canopy, then you’ll probably really like this album. In its most downbeat-oriented moments, it’s a fantastic modern dance music offering.

(Guilt Ridden Pop -- P.O Box 11894, Saint Paul, MN. 55111; http://www.myspace.com/guiltriddenpop; Maps of Norway -- http://www.mapsofnorway.net/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, February 6th, 2009. Filed under Reviews.

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