Though lazy critics will compare him to more established acts, there's plenty of exciting distinctions that set alt-folk newbie Mappe Of apart on his new debut album, A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone.
Granted, fans of the genre's giants will hear similarities between Justin Vernon's mysteriously atmospheric singing and the vocal approach of this Whitby, ON troubadour (born Tom Meikle): Opening track "Cavern's Dark" is particularly Bon Iver-esque, and other tunes on the fantastic new LP, like "Nimbin," also have a woodsy, wistful vibe that will be familiar and irresistible to Fleet Foxes fans.
However, these are tasteful homages in engrossing, gorgeous arrangements that never come across as mere imitation. What's more, he taps other influences that might come as a surprise to alt-folk fans. For instance, midway acoustic number "Unfound" finds Mappe Of's voice hewing to Thom Yorke's aching solo work. It's followed by "II. Leaftail," which features Latin-tinged electric guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Santana record.
Then there's the blend of acoustic and electric guitars, along with vocals that are subtly manipulated by synths, on A Northern Star tracks like "I. Scathefire" and "Kaepora," which sound entirely unique to Mappe Of and bode well for his future releases. Meanwhile, the cacophony of strange synth sounds on "Ruin" somehow sound both operatic and industrial.
Yet, Mappe Of's most distinctive strength of all might be his lyrical content. Case in point: the haunting "Carbon Scores and Smoke," which is sung from the vantage of a disturbed boy attempting to commit arson in his very own home. The entire LP is rife with such evocative lines, from the sprawling poetic verses on "Peaceful Ghosts" and "Unfound" to the bluntly succinct, yet somehow all the more abstract, "III: Cerulean" and "Ruin."
Mappe Of covers welcoming, familiar ground before mapping out thrilling new terrain on one of the strongest alt-folk debuts in recent memory. (Paper Bag)