Among the more satisfying aspects of writing about music on the local level is being around for the scrappy bands that keep coming back and getting a little better, every time.
Maple Stave is one such band. The Durham oddity emerged as a math-y instro-punk trio in the mid-aughts, powered by clobbering drummer Evan Rowe with Christopher Williams and Andy Hull adding hefty intricacy by opting for the lower sound of baritone guitars.
They’ve patiently refined and enhanced their sound over the years, adding lyrics and singing and, in 2019, the steadying bass of Chris Rasmussen. Since 2010, they’ve released a new album every six or seven years, reaffirming and extending their powers with each release.
And so it is again on Arguments, the first album to feature Rasmussen. Released in August, the album finds Maple Stave reestablishing itself as one of the Triangle’s most distinct and compelling hard rock acts. The album alternates instrumentals and songs with singing until the closing trio of lyrics-forward tracks and serves as both a more taut and succinct answer to instro-rock titans such as Pelican and Russian Circles and a more cerebral variant of the fussed-over but feral punk offered by the likes of Birds in Row.
The instrumentals, welcome palate cleansers between Williams’ intense existential outbursts, showcase Maple Stave’s adept touch for ratcheting tension with propulsive rhythm and textural contrast, as Williams and Hull confront wiry and anxious higher-end playing with lower-end tumult that rumbles confidently.
The other songs key on the band’s ability to continuously escalate momentum to transform Williams’ melancholic ruminations into cathartic expulsions of exasperation and dejection.
The returns are somewhat repetitive but aren’t terribly diminished.
The swirling churn of opener “Indian Ocean, Present Day” pushes the singer closer and closer to a breaking point, his cleanly sung lines becoming louder and hoarser as he goes. “What if mistakes we made came back to us one day / Stood along the path and blocked every escape,” he wonders as a fighter pilot getting ready for a showdown. The bout doesn’t seem to go his way: “I can feel the MiGs closing in / And the night absorbing me / As I bend myself to break,” he shouts repeatedly as the song ends.
Closer “I’m Not Tied to Pretty” balances the band’s instrumental prowess and newer-found songwriting talent best. Following an extended intro that builds scuzzy pummeling into soaring thunderclaps, the song reduces and builds back to a boil as Wiliams ponders going out like Bohdi in Point Break: “I may swim out / Past the breakers / To be pulled under / To feel the warmth within my chest.”
Welcome back, Maple Stave. Maybe don’t take seven years to visit again this time?
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