How good it must feel to sit back and compare your own body of work to your contemporaries and just know you’re sitting head and shoulders above them. Icons like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Andy Warhol surely must have experienced similar feelings during their respective reigns and whether deserved or not, the feeling is a sweet one. In releasing Maps of Non-Existent Places, Thank You Scientist can now, for this brief moment, sit back and know they are the kings of progressive/jazz-fusion. This album is a huge tour-de force, relentless in its delivery, and expertly executed masterpiece of the genre and stands as the envy of all like-minded bands.
Making music with other people is tough enough with all the opinions, egos, and hurt feelings surfacing to dilute the final product but Maps of Non-Existent Places and its seven creators manage to not only show exemplary song writing prowess but the ability to showcase every instrument in such a fashion where its addition feels seamless. Bands like Between the Buried and Me have been knocked for their schizophrenic inclusion of instruments which came off sounding like “Look a banjo!!”, but Maps of Non-Existent Places, even with all the instruments utilized by the band erases that problem. Cursory listens to the record also make apparent that these instruments aren’t here for the sake of variety; every band member is expert in his contribution. The violins, trumpets, guitar, bass, drums, and sax all display a technical wizardry seldom heard all on the same record and rarely if ever does the technicality turn into wankery (depending where you draw the line between the two).
The song structures are also very well written. Mighty morphing time signature changes and tempo shifts are played beautifully with silky-smooth transitions to and from fast to slow and back again. Nowhere in Maps of Non-Existent Places is this more evident than in the 9 minute epic, “Blood on the Radio” which along with the structural changes exhibits a plethora of musical influences from the salsa intro, to the jazzy and metal-esque interludes all contained neatly in their progressive shell. The guitar leads are similar to the jazzy style employed by Will Swan of Dance Gavin Dance and fit the prog/jazz feel of the record perfectly. The trumpet and sax are no mere background instruments and drive these songs just as strongly as the guitar does. If any instrument could be called a “background” instrument it’d be the violin and viola as those are inherently quieter instruments but even those have their time to shine throughout the record.
Not mentioned yet are the vocals (yep there’s vocals) which can be compared to Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria in tone but are delivered with a bit more power. The vocals are the weakest part of the record but in the same way that one’s pinky finger is the weakest of the fingers. The vocals are in no way a detractor from any of the songs and frequently provide a good amount of feeling to counterbalance the sometimes relentless onslaught of instrumentation that can leave the listener weary.
It doesn’t get much better than this. In the realm of modern jazz/fusion Maps of Non-Existent Places is now the hallmark in this reviewer’s eyes. What other record contains a guitar solo, violin solo, bass solo, AND a sax solo? No shoehorning, no contrived wankery and all awesome, one can only hope Maps of Non-Existent Places doesn’t become Thank You Scientist’s magnum opus and they find some way to somehow tweak their formula to create another record as stellar as this.