For some, the return of The Maple State is a truly momentous event. Their hiatus has seen them elevated to local legend status among the Manchester indie-rock scene, and while only developing a cult following, the magnitude of their releases on new bands at the turn of the decade is something to be admired. So almost ten years after their last release, The Things I Heard At The Party sees the trio attempting to justify their lofty standpoint, influenced by their diverse and wide-reaching adventures in their decade away, ranging from the experiences of ayahuasca highs in Bolivia to snippets of conversation at a Halloween party in a Sloane Square penthouse.
And yet, for what is effectively their debut full-length, The Maple State haven’t returned with some grand odyssey befitting of a band with backgrounds in conservational biology and environmentalism within the European Space Agency. Instead, The Things I Heard… is decidedly homegrown and lowkey, stemming from frontman Greg Counsell’s love of folk music in its simplicity. And even if that wasn’t stated outright, the intimate nature of lack of any unnecessary fat whatsoever on the title track or Cold Theatre II (Always You) could easily be stripped back to the purest fundamentals and still work. These are songs built around the writing rather than the other way around, and while that doesn’t produce any single moment of true euphoria or bombast, there’s a well-worn, naturalistic quality that stands in its place that’s definitely appreciated. That’s even more true when considering the lack of real intrusion within the production; in terms of setup, The Maple State’s is as simple as a rock band can get, totally eschewing anything beyond the essentials to make this album all the more snappy and accessible.
That also brings into question what The Things I Heard… can do to really stand out, and the answer seems to be not a great deal. Make no mistake, an album that can get by on sound structure to the extent that this one can is always good to have around, but it could do with a bit more colour and defining presence to really pop, rather than simmer and patter away in the background. The fact that the most memorable moment is the quicker vocal cadence of Deadline which brings to mind some truly horrific memories of The Ordinary Boys is dubious to say the least, particularly when tracks like Cannonball and The Motorbike And The Closest Of Calls have clearly been so lovingly slaved over, and yet could do with that extra push to really take them over the edge into something amazing.
It lands The Maple State in a pretty frustrating place, one where they’re on the cusp of real greatness and could very well make that jump into that territory, but don’t. The Things I Heard… is still incredibly solid for what it is though, and when indie-rock is currently undergoing another surge in quality with more ground-level content and presentation, the likability factor of The Maple State pushes the, right near the top of the pile. Even if it could have a few more gut-punch moments, there’s still a lot to sink into here, and especially as a justification of their cult legends status, The Things I Heard… verges on being pretty wonderful.
For fans of: Johnny Foreigner, Tellison, Happy Accidents
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Things I Heard At The Party’ by The Maple State is released on 23rd March on Far Out Records.