Rhythm & Views

US Maple

Unless you've been under an indie rock for the last 10 years, you're probably familiar with at least a few of the acts on Chicago's Drag City roster. Bands such as Royal Trux, (early) Pavement, Smog and, of late, Chicago's own US Maple have been stretching the boundaries of rock and roll to extremes each in their own little direction.

I could spew off descriptors such as post-rock and avant-garde (whoops, just said 'em), but that doesn't really tell you what to expect. Instead, I'll just say that US Maple rocks, just not in the same way most bands rock. Let me explain.

Music, in general, consists of notes, noise and rhythm, all organized by time. The four guys in US Maple use the first three of those ingredients, but seem to kind of leave out that time part (or have come up with their own).

The band's approach to writing is atypical as well. Apparently, while the band (a drummer and two guitarists--one playing the "hi," the other the "lo" part) are recording in the studio, singer Alan Johnson sits in an adjacent room listening and writing. After deciding on which sounds go with each part, he then converts the sounds to words. And, voilà! You've got a bona-fide US Maple song. Its fourth and latest release, Acre Thrills, further expands the band's quest to break with the norm of the typical verse/chorus recipe, and just might be its best work to date.

Like the band's previous releases, the song structure on Acre is odd, to say the least. That is, unless you peeked at your CD player to check the time remaining on any given track, it's hard to tell whether they're in the beginning, middle or end of a song, or what they're going to do next.

The opening track, "Ma, Digital," lets you know this right away. As Johnson murmurs and gurgles, the others sound as if they are just warming up. Then, as if by mistake, they lock onto a momentary groove only to return to the subtle noodling that preceded.

"Open A Rose," on the other hand, finds the two guitarists entangled in what only can be described as "insect mating rock," which, along with thumping and simple drumming as Johnson murmurs and groans, creates a certain feeling of tension. Then, in a sort of climax, the two insects (er, guitars) break apart and wail on their own riffs as the song comes to an end.

All in all, Acre is a damn good record. It ebbs and it flows, just, you know, to its own sort of beat. Kind of like if Captain Beefheart sang for a slowed-down Devo playing backwards. Or something like that.

The boys in US Maple have carved out their own weird niche in rock by simply, and unabashedly, turning the medium on its head. It ain't always pretty, but who said rock and roll had to be pretty to be good? Wasn't me, Sarg.