"It was not on any map. True places never are." - Herman Melvill
With their songs of traintracks and setbacks, leaving and longing, the Lost Cartographers fit well into Chicago's burgeoning alt.country and Americana scene.
But check out one of their shows and you'll discover a sound that lives in the margins of half a dozen genres, from the melancholy beauty of "Metronome" and "Killing Time in Nashville" to the hillbilly stomp of "Goodbye Ohio" (on which drummer Jason Haaheim plays a metal washtub), and from the retro folk-rock of "Walk On" to the the feedback-soaked psychedelia of "Golden Record."
The band's eclecticism is even visible in their covers -- in their able hands, Dolly Parton's "Jolene" becomes a desperate rocker, while Death Cab for Cutie's folky "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" veers between sounding like a 1950's Ben E. King hit and a long-lost Joy Division track
The first thing you'll notice about the band is the sound of lead singer Gabrielle Schafer. Her sultry, lonesome voice has been compared to everyone from Dusty Springfield to Sade. Keyboardist Erin Fusco weaves delicate harmonies around Schafer's vocals, while laying down gorgeous textures of Rhodes piano and organ.
Schafer and Fusco also contribute to the songwriting duties, though the bulk of the songs are penned by lead guitarist Aaron Rester. Like some of his influences (echoes of Tom Petty, Freedy Johnston, and Tom Waits are all audible in his tunes), Rester writes simple but evocative songs full of haunting images, memorable narratives, and all the love, death, and old-time religion you'd hope for from a country band.
The rhythm section of Haaheim and bassist Karl Seigfried is classically trained (both play for area orchestras, and Seigfried has a doctorate in bass performance), with deep roots in the jazz world; they add a level of subtle complexities to the sonic mix that is unmatched by most of the Lost Cartographers' peers.
Together, the group paints musical landscapes of places that are simultaneously familiar and strange, rendered with a loving attention to detail but unafraid of the chaos of happy accidents
Like Melville's "true places," the Lost Cartographers may not be on the map -- but they soon will be.