When I heard Life Sized Maps for the first time my immediate reaction was, “Wait, haven’t I heard this band on the radio?” Of course, I hadn’t, but it sounded like the kind of thing I could have.
On one hand, that’s a pretty big compliment. It says, “your music has potential to be huge.” But I’m not sure it’s a compliment that the band would be entirely comfortable with because it also implies a critique, “your music sounds like something I’ve heard before.” And I suspect it’s a comment they get a lot. Life Size Maps play a brand of indie pop so chocked full of hooks, some new and some re-contextualized, that they inevitably sound a bit familiar. And yes, they could be huge.
Life Sized Maps is a power trio from NYC featuring Mike McKeever on vocals and guitar, Robert Karpay on cello, keyboard, and vocals, and Griffin Kisner on drums. They formed in 2008 after meeting through music classes at Columbia University and Manhattan School of Music. Though trained in a variety of styles, McKeever explains, “we bonded over the idea that pop music is the most immediate and visceral type of music around.” It’s a philosophy they embrace head on in their music. Life Size Maps bring a surprising blend of youthful energy to the table to compliment their technical ability, churning out a highly infectious brand of indie pop.
Comedian and musician Rob Paravonian likes to rant about Pachelbel’s Canon, a composition he’s had it out for ever since he was forced to play it in orchestra when he was in middle school. He calls Johann Pachelbel the “original one hit wonder” and curses about how those eight obnoxious chords continue to haunt him to this day, reappearing in just about every popular song of the 20th century, from Bob Dylan to Green Day to Aerosmith to Avril Levigne.
I mention this because in A-side “Seems To Me” , Life Sized Maps takes that same (in)famous chord progression and flaunts it. I don’t think it’s an accident. Maybe those chords found their way into a lot of the hits that Paravonian mentions by chance, but in the case of Life Size Maps it seems like a deliberate re-appropriation of the Canon and all the baggage it carries, that impressive legacy of recycled hits. And because the verse in “Seems To Me” is played on cello (it’s the same cello part that scarred poor Paravonian for life) the allusion to the original is pretty unavoidable. So my deja vu upon hearing it for the first time might have something to do with that.
But Pachelbel’s progression is hardly the only hook in “Seems To Me.” The song begins with an energetic dance punk riff while the chorus is more delicate, supported by a cello arpeggio and tight vocal harmonies. The vocal melody is consistently catchy. In the verse it provides brilliant counterpoint to the Canon while in in the chorus, which is harmonically more sparse, it floats to the top. The melody in the bridge is a little more defiant, “I shouldn’t go to your light anymore…“ But the pinnacle for me is definitely in the final chorus when all of the distinct vocal hooks suddenly dovetail together. It’s almost like a round… you know, “row, row, row your boat.” Its a huge moment. The song ends when the two primary melodies sync up, albeit on different words, “see” and “differently,” and harmonize.
B-side “Meet Me In The Shade” has a rather different vibe, but like “Seems To Me” it sounds a bit like something you might have heard on the radio. Or rather, several things you might have heard on the radio. Old ingredients are thrown together to create a new recipe. The recording begins with an atmospheric cello riff that could just as easily be the beginning of a Phillip Glass composition before launching into a peppy pop song (circa 1967) in the style of The Turtles or The Beach Boys. The lyrics have a classic ring to them too, but with a pinch more cynicism. “All I’m needing is what you’re drinking,” McKeever sings, “but I am not prepared, so fill my glass with care.” After the second chorus, the vocals drop out for a little while and the melody is echoed on the cello and my favorite moment is at around 2:30 when the entire band drops out except for Karpay, who makes that cello swing harder than I’ve ever heard a cello swing before. Gradually the drums and guitar creep back in and culminate in an explosive final chorus-well, I’m calling it a chorus but really it’s the verse and chorus transposed onto one another. Just like at the end of “Seems To Me” , Life Size Maps again manages to weave several melodies together into a joyous tapestry of pop.
When I listen to Life Size Maps I am reminded of a passage in Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” in which the narrator Saleem Sinai, after spilling his life story for nearly one hundred pages and having not yet arrived at the point where his parents meet , explains that to understand one life you have to swallow the world. Conveniently, I might use a similar excuse for writing a thousand words about Life Size Maps and barely scratching the surface of their music, devoting more time to asides about a 17th-century German composer, Rob Paravonian’s comedy routine, 1960’s pop, and most recently, British-Indian novelist and essayist Rushdie. But I think the same can be true of a band. To understand what Life Size Maps is doing you’ll need to swallow Pachelbel’s big hit and all the spinoffs it spawned, a legacy of adaptation and parody, you’ll need to digest the Beach Boys in their entirety, not just the tasty bits but also the debilitating addiction and depression that sent Brian Wilson into rehab, you’ll need to swallow punk, from it’s birth in 1970’s counterculture to it’s marriage with pop in 1990’s alt rock, you’ll need to…
Get the idea? Life Size Maps is an exhilarating hodgepodge of popular music spanning centuries. Swallow it all. Or if you’d rather, just let it wash over you, listen, and enjoy. Their latest EP is available for free download below.
Seems To Me
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem085/01 Seems To Me.mp3
Meet Me in the Shade
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem085/02 Meet Me in the Shade.mp3