Canyon rock, though not dark and sandy a la Howe Gelb/Giant Sand, nor reverberating the Sonorant mariachi and trumpet call of Calexico. Maplewood’s desert is more aligned with casino lights and guilty pop pleasure. I can’t claim to be familiar with many of their press-release-touted influences, save for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and a passing acquaintance with America and The Byrds. On first listen to the self-titled LP, I expected the lyrics to be more tongue-in–cheek, to provide balance to the sweet California pop vocals and twanging twelve string guitar. It wasn’t until I listened to the promo the old fashioned way (on my antiquated Discman) while on a lunch time stroll through the fallen leaves in central park, did the music click. Somewhere amongst the earthy scent of autumn and the crisp fall air, I let loose the bindings of work and put my thumb on how Maplewood fit in my personal mosaic of music. The sincere vocal emoting, cloying yet honest harmony, and jangle-pop strumming nudged awake a more youthful me.
Imagine yourself at 16- crowded five across in the back seat of a borrowed car, barreling down Ocean Parkway, punch drunk and high on life. Thick with the thrill of escape and heady with adolescent omnipotence, we reveled in music. More often than I’d admit beyond the veil of the internet, we dabbled in CSNY, along-side Simon and Garfunkel, and (embarrassingly enough) The Grateful Dead. In retrospect, it seems this was our way of balancing musical plates- a nice contrast to the mope rock, grunge, and heavy industrial music we devoured as a testament to our righteous youth. When it came time for a high speed sing-along, we wanted bright harmony and buoyant strumming. “Judy Blue Eyes” as opposed to the pain-stricken Cure lyrics we devoted our days to carving into notebooks. Even the most studied cynic amongst us needs to fancy our sweet tooth from time to time.
This is not a release I’d place in every-day rotation- not to its discredit, rather its something that best hits target when you are feeling wistful and reaping the leaves of autumn (while pining to sow the seeds of youth). Maplewood tickles the quiet part that lingers on “classic” rock stations on lengthy road trips and unabashedly sings along to “Uncle John’s Band” (though you’d never admit this to friends). Embracing the Beach Boys and Scott Walker, reminiscent of CSNY and the Allmans’, the band finds its roots in music mostly ignored by contemporary indie bands.
Maplewood is extremely unique in the context of the musical landscape that is the New York scene. This Brooklyn based band, whose members comprise other respected indie acts (Champale, Koester, Nada Surf, Cub Country), is un-standard as you can get. While the guitar soloing and pop orchestration often reflects outside-the-scene Brooklyn brethren such as The Essex Green and Mendoza Line, Maplewood is even further removed from the borough.
My best attempt at describing their sound in the context of modern indie rock is that Maplewood is most complimentary to a handful of acts on the Merge label. Upon listening, you can hear a little Lambchop, a smattering of The Ladybug Transistor, a taste of The Essex Green. At the same time, there are hints of mid-era R.E.M and the Stones circa “Ruby Tuesday/Wild Horses”. On a whole, Maplewood is musically adept. The resonant bass playing is as melodic and soothing as Naomi Yang or the Clientele’s James Hornsey. Superman drummer Ira Elliot lends pendulant percussion and Alan Weatherhead (Sparklehorse) adds to the mix on pedal steel. Maplewood’s self titled debut was mixed by the stellar Bryce Goggin (Luna, Pavement, Clem Snide) and Geoff Sanoff (Luna, Secret Machines).
“Indian summer’s” opening progression seems to echo that Filter song popular in the late ‘90’s (you know…let go my airplane/let go my airplane), then quickly (and thankfully) segs into a Gary Olsen worthy baritone. How many songs are there about Indian summer anyway?- The Doors, Beat Happening (and Luna’s cover), Lee Hazelwood, Pedro the Lion, etc have all mused on this quasi-season. There must be something lyrical about late September air. In her beauty mother nature makes us proclaim our love. From one to another/here to discover/Indian summer.
“Darlene” is my favorite track from the release, jangley, harmonic, and evoking that part of pastoral America that prompted Michael Stipe to sing of power line floaters, maps, and legends. Rozzo sings of the California that exists outside of the intersection of “Hollywood and Vine”. The following song, “Gemini is On the Way” is drenched with Kurt Wagner- style falsetto and slide guitar and supported with a brightly strummed solo that ties it all together.
“Little Dreamer Girl” paints another picture of the change of seasons and is reminiscent of the pop-orchestration and California dreaming of The Essex Green (particularly “The Late Great Cassiopeia”) Sing-song rhyming supports the meandering music; 4am again awake/wish I could give more than I take…5am again asleep, wish I could give more than I keep. The fluid guitar interplay hints to excellent live treatment.
Contrary to its title, “Pocono’s” does not call to mind pre-packaged mountain vacations marketed towards the suburban set. Wistful of romance past, the song laments lovers had and lost. Sometimes the harmony is too cloying, like treacle on a sore tooth, but when it is on target it is as perfect as sweet cream dolloped on a tart peach. In this case lush strings and bittersweet lyrics round out the dueling tenor harmonies.
Another album stand out, “Morning Star”, has that slow, descending progression oft repeated in rock, this time sporting what may be the albums only plugged-in guitar at the front of the mix. The verses of “Desert Queen” almost insist that you belt “Wild Horses/ wouldn’t drag me away” at the chorus. Luckily, Mark Rozzo’s voice is without gravel or grit and the song stands on its own (despite its haunting similarity). Oddly enough, this song most honors the desert rock descriptor- you can imagine the tumbling weeds, swinging-door saloons and moonshine tears of the desolate west. “Bright Eyes” is another winner. Sad and pensive, with lyrics and singing that evokes the desert as painted through the eyes of David Lowery. The new tragic figure/falls out of his chair/and rolls around on broken glass bottles/throws insults into the air.
Maplewood will be supporting Luna as they kick off their U.S. tour on October 30 at Maxwell’s NJ. They will also warm the stage for dearly departing Luna at the Middle East in Boston on November 5. Their sunny daytime pop should provide a nice contrast to Luna’s nighttime dreaminess.Powered by Sidelines