November 01, 2003

Imaginary Maps "S/T"

It's tough being a one-man band. It seems as if some people aren't gonna take you seriously, unless, of course, you make a record that sounds remarkably like a band. It's certainly a gambit best left to people who have true musical skill; after all, no matter how good you are, you're always going to be weak on one instrument. Also, as you're doing it all yourself, can you really be trusted to be an editor? You're gonna think every song is important, and editing can actually make a mediocre record better. But if every song is like your child, are you gonna throw one out of the house?

I have always said that any band or artist who can strike up a balance between acoustic folk and dark electronica would be the creators of a wholly original format. Some artists have accomplished much in this direction, such as Beth Orton and The Doves. Seattle's Imaginary Maps--a one man project led by a singular visionary by the name of VEO--deserve credit for trying to mix folk and electronica, and for bridging the gap between soft and loud. The music on Imaginary Maps is lush, dense, dark and beautiful; falling somewhere between electronica and goth, it is certainly anything but dull, and there's plenty to listen for, as it continually grows and expands upon further listens.

Too bad that VEO sounds like Billy Bragg.

Now, I personally like Billy Bragg, but I do know and understand that his vocals are an acquired taste. And, to be fair, I like Imaginary Maps, too, but VEO's vocals are also an acquired taste. Don't get me wrong; I don't have a problem with his singing, but when the vocals are mixed high above the music, the singing issue is much more problematic. When above the mix, his singing is overwhelming, and as a singing style like his is best taken in small doses. Of course, the bigger problem created with the vocals high in the mix is that it covers up Imaginary Maps' strongest feature: the utterly beautiful musical landscapes VEO has created.

This mixing problem is a common one, especially for one-man acts, because no matter how good of an artist you are, you'll never get the same kind of dynamic as you would with a full band. As VEO is just now starting out on his career, this is a flaw that's easily forgiven .To be fair, the Billy Braggisms occasionally work, like on beautiful electrofolk songs like "Fall Apart." When the balance between vocals and instrumental tracks is equally balanced and are in sync, such as on "Showdown" and the blistering "Waste," Imaginary Maps is wonderfully excellent.

Imaginary Maps is a promising group, and despite the flaws of the album, there's still plenty to love. Give them some time, growth, experience, maturity--and possibly a full band--VEO could easily create an album that is utterly amazing, and will easily mix all of his obvious influences and styles together. Though he's not there yet, I have faith in VEO's ability to become an artist to be reckoned with.

--Joseph Kyle

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