Everything about Canadian singer Mappe Of is wrapped in mystery. His real name, while not exactly a state secret, is never mentioned anywhere on his website or press releases. Likewise Mappe Of's debut album, A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone, out July 28, which is just as ethereal and vaporous as the album's smoky and smudged cover art.
Musically, Mappe Of is hard to pigeonhole into a genre label. The fingerpicked acoustic guitar that anchors every song is straight Americana. The swelling synth backgrounds and synth-laden vocals on some tracks are pure Bon Iver. The random noises, such as what sounds suspiciously like a morse code signal on “Cavern's Dark”, evoke memories of Thomas Dolby's more atmospheric cuts, like “Budapest By Blimp.”
Lyrically, Mappe Of is even more opaque. While his songs are filled with wandering vagabonds, a dying man slowly losing his memory, cats in Adelaide, and plenty of people struggling to find their place in a world singularly cruel to the mentally ill or just eternally odd, it takes multiple listens to get there. The lyrics on A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone play like a fever dream, with snatches of coherence interspersed with vague references that dance at the corners of understanding, glimpsed peripherally but never fully seen.
Mappe Of also keeps the surprises coming with his strange choices of instrumentation. There is no traditional drum kit on any of the songs, but plenty of percussion offered subtly by the guitars, bones, and hands beating upon whatever surface is at hand. Elsewhere, Mappe Of brings in instruments like horns, a kalimba, and an autoharp. The songs border on discordance, but never quite fall over that precipice, only enhancing the sensory overload.
Is A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone one of the best albums of 2017? Probably not. But it's one of the most intriguing. In its press release, Mappe Of stated his goal was to “create a setting where you can lose yourself. The ideal record for me is where you can lie back on your bed and listen to the thing front to back and be taken somewhere.” And in that goal, Mappe Of has been very successful.