Few bands in the history of deconstructive rock (Captain Beefheart, Red Krayola, Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers, etc.) have taken measures as drastic as US Maple do to create such an intentionally organized mess. Falling out of Chicago’s No Wave scene, US Maple compose idiot-savant song structures so smeared and fractured it’s a stretch to call them “rock.” This is mostly because, until the recent Purple On Time, their music displayed Thelonius Monk-style sleight of hand—camouflaging the melody, flattening the groove, turning itself inside-out just as you caught a peek of something recognizable. As if uncomfortably enduring a Tourette’s-suffering inspirational speaker, you had to wait patiently through the band’s herky-jerky stutters and Day-Glo splattering stops for things to finally shift into crystal-clear melodic symmetry.
But on P.O.T.—an assuredly purposeful acronym—the same discordant clusters are bound loosely into songs that stay together and fall apart—less! The tone of twilight and anxiety permeates as always, but stylings have matured: The wheezing Al Johnson’s lecherous snarls now show flickers of warmth; nonsense lyrics like “pencils play, on purple” sound earnest. The ornamental noodling of guitarists Mark Shippy and Todd Rittman, regularly flipping the bird to everyone from Fred Frith and Sonic Youth to Skynyrd and Hendrix, now hypnotically flutters in sync long enough to sting. New drummer Adam Vida plays to the songs, letting their dynamics vibrantly stretch. Finally allowing themselves to rock out, US Maple seem comfortable settling into normalcy—they even do an itching coloring-out-of-the-lines version of “Lay Lady Lay.” Sadly, old fans may call the face-lift a sellout. But c’mon, don’t shackle my high; P.O.T.’s simply got much needed swing.