Those who have been following composer and multi-instrumentalist Jerome Alexander, otherwise known as Message To Bears, over the years will find themselves witnessing a full-out evolution of his style and sound on his latest release Maps. Previously Alexander has tepidly treaded the waters between folk and ambient tones, but Maps marks a complete transformation, and in many ways a tough willingness, to transcend the light-hearted, earthy realms he has confined himself to. Nothing against his leafy mixtures over the years, as that of course has gained him the steady following he now holds, but Maps presents a complete embrace to absorb his full potential not only as a composer but as a conductor of emotion and experience.
Every track on Maps provides a new side of Alexander, at points straying him further away from his previous signature style but in bold new creative directions. You’d be hard pressed to consider Maps an ambient record and way off the mark to compare it to any of Alexander’s instrumental works, as his inclusion of soft-touch and in a sense “tired” vocals is more aligned to a Bon Iver recording.
Maps retains Alexander’s standard tenderly poignant and somber vibes, but through its blurring of electronic, programmed strings, and beat machines, create a whole new atmosphere of contradiction. In many cases, much of the tracks are rhythmic and upbeat but still hold that sense of isolation and loneliness of a creeping silence.
There is enough diversity found within Maps that shows off Alexander’s exponential growth of maturity and newfound range of imagination. Particularly in the album’s last six tracks does Maps really serve as a testament to the composer’s level of skill.”Two Finds Two,” hints at an uptempo pace with it electronica-styled intro but slowly turns into one of the most surprisingly somber moments of the record with its Bon Iver like lyrics and auto-tune vocals. “Almost Faded,” in its gospel-evangelist nature is the most stylized piece on the album, never changing in its pace yet providing a withheld breath of emotion, brilliantly leaving the listener reaching for a never-to-happen climax. “Closed Doors” the aptly-titled closing track is a fitting last gasp after a complete emotional roller coaster, retrospective in vision with an almost-ghastly tune, and clearly the most “Message To Bears” signature track on the record. Where it all comes home however are the tracks “I Know You Love to Fall” and “You Are A Memory” – some of the finest songwriting and production in any genre this year. “I Know You Love to Fall” is desperate and extending, yet relentless in pushing the heart in every sense of the word. “You Are A Memory,” the first revealed track off the album and easily the biggest highlight off Maps, is pure in its melting pot of tears and bowed heads. “You Are A Memory” also presents the track that will have the biggest appeal to anyone outside the ambient fanbase. (sidenote: as I play this track at my station next to fellow Pitchfork writers, there is nothing but a gathering of inquiries and requests to share the song with them).
If one line had to sum up Message To Bears’ Maps its simply these aren’t tracks on a record; these are moments. Moments that we wished would never end.
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