If the unflinching, heavy-barreling material of the first three EPs by Durham's Maple Stave warrant a unified gripe, it's that the 14 tracks therein aren't enough. Or, more accurately, it's not enough at once. Since January 2005, Maple Stave has released an EP approximately every 20 months. The band's yet to release a full-length or record on anything but a shoestring. Luckily, Maple Stave's short releases don't seem like practice for a bigger show. Each EP has evidenced a band devoted increasingly to tension subsidized through restraint: EP1 felt like a series of immense explosions; EP2 ultimately put fire to its fumes, but not before a series of masterful misdirections; EP3 does both, launching its carefully constructed themes but not before landing a series of complex, well-considered maneuvers.
The secret, it seems, is the selfless playing of the members: Guitarist Chris Williams, bassist Andy Hull and drummer Evan Rowe thrive through symbiosis here, with each note and pattern they play totally cognizant of the other two-thirds action. On opener "Panda Jazz," they build in perfect periodic motion, stopping on a dime, slowly letting the composite swell peal into three separate waves. At 167 seconds, "I Will Fire When I Am Goddamn Good and Ready" is the shortest Maple Stave track yet, but all the action is present, with barely there rests bisecting drum surges and feedback shocks. Rowe pounces on the beat, racing past it with his snare but ziplining to Hull's bass with quick, fleeting tom-tom hits. Despite all this, it's track two, the six-minute "Hail Mary," that demands more from Maple Stave. "Hail Mary" is one of the few tracks to achieve Explosions in the Sky-style grandiosity with rock instruments without sounding like an Explosions tribute. The action builds and falls twice, leaving only the guitar in the ashes. Things rise again, a Motorik rhythm branded to an epic vista. Everything turns on itself, the guitar and bass glowering in distortion while the drums sandbag for forward motion. For an instant, it collides perfectly. Then, like this fantastic third helping, it's gone.
Maple Stave releases EP3 with a show at Bull City Headquarters Saturday, Aug. 23, with Red Collar and Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan. The 9 p.m. show costs $5.