The Liars were good for something after all. Frontman Angus Andrew may have tumbled along with his mates from pop-skronk adequacy into indulgent noise-prog irrelevance quickly enough, but at least he inspired his girlfriend to write an indie rock standard along the way. Jack White stripped “Maps” down to its modulated essentials at Reading, the Arcade Fire klutzed it up with more-is-less bloat on BBC One, and Ted Leo explored its affinity with “Since U Been Gone” in a video clip that might just hold up in court.
Like Patti Smith and Sleater-Kinney, among other lady pioneers, Karen O has rarely caught on disc the joy that goes into her musicking. (That’s not exclusively a female problem — Springsteen’s been known to trip himself up the same way.) For that reason, Fever to Tell never quite connected with me until I saw the YYYs live. But “Maps” was the great exception. Here, Karen not only proves she’s human after all, but the 3D nature of Zinner’s guitar twinkling underneath and the heavy pound of Brian Chase shattering into the cymbal triplets of the chorus approximate the band’s live attack more vibrantly than elsewhere.
Pop recordings have always sought to conquer the distance between lovers, and the chorus of “Maps” echoes the continual farewells exchanged as touring musicians endure our stupidly vast continental sprawl. I don’t know the details of Andrew’s relationship with Karen, and don’t really want to–I’m still pissed that I have to think about Nash Kato when I listen to Exile in Guyville. Far from requiring such detail, “Maps” owes its punch to its deliberately sketchy lyrics, overheard excerpts from that DMZ between conversation and argument rehashed often enough to have developed shorthand conventions. And it all pauses for one bearable second whenever Karen exclaims “wait.”