Maple Stave has forever been defined by precision. More so than the unorthodox instrumentation of Andy Hull and Chris Williams, who play aluminum-body baritone electric guitars, and drummer Evan Rowe, the trio's propulsive, pugnacious math rock is marked by method, a geodesic sense of melody, and tension ratcheted through restraint. (Disclosure: Maple Stave's Chris Williams is an INDY employee.)
At first, Maple Stave's recorded output arrived like clockwork. Across its first seven years, the band operated on a reliable release schedule, dropping an EP or LP about every twenty months. But V, Maple Stave's fifth record, arrives after a half-decade in the making and a period of extended hibernation. Hull moved to Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. After an eventual geographical reunion, the members of Maple Stave started cutting V as they first returned to action in early 2015.
Rather than being hampered by the hiatus, Maple Stave still treats tightly wound tension as a way of life, their bifurcated guitar lines still pulled tight like tripwires and their tangential rhythms still enforcing a sense of urgency. Opener "Townsend" sticks to Maple Stave's fundamental strengths. After a noisy opening, the song rumbles forward, gaining steam until it barrels to a close. The instrumental "Venkman" recaptures EP3's thrust, with Rowe tom-rolling his way through an extended climax as Hull and Williams pulverize chords. "Call Signal Spider" evokes the same domestic discord Maple Stave mined for EP2. Williams delivers defeat in staccato gasps of desperation: "After all you have seen, after all you have promised me/Never say you could be here for us/As me and the kids watch you parade in from Boca Raton," he seethes. Rowe punctuates the memory with two drum hits that suggest a slamming door.
It may seem disappointing that Maple Stave has picked up so few new tricks. But back in 2010, just a few months before the band released its first LP, Rowe hit upon a key truth: in Maple Stave, no one part dominates the others. Like gears in a Swiss watch, the players work together, each cog directing or reacting to the other two thirds. V, then, isn't so much a comeback or redirection as a culmination of the band's collective thirteen years, the intersection of many winding paths. Breaks aside, the precision remains.
Maple Stave appears Saturday, February 27 at The Pinhook in Durham. Tickets are $8.