Jackson Albracht stands onstage between cardboard cutouts of a T. Rex and a tentacled guitar, complaining that a Christian wants to eat his head. Lead vocalist-guitarist Albracht’s complaint comes in the deceptively politely titled “I Don’t Care for Job,” the band’s penultimate track in a scary-good set list too brief at about 30 minutes.
The Cartographers play Pop Rocks mixed with Coke, a caffeinated and potentially lethal blend of indie quirk deploying, every catchy trick previously mapped by musical pioneers from Buddy Holly to the Unicorns — three-part harmonies, bouncy 12th-fret riffs, tinkling keyboard — to service lyrics like “”I seen a Christian with a fork and knife just looking at my head like he was hungry,” until they’re bona-fide sing-along hooks ready for radio. They sabotage conventional subjects like “Clouds” (“real original” notes Albracht) with controlled dissonance and waffling high end.
The band’s shtick on Jack’s carpeted stage is comparatively subdued. All but Albracht stand nearly stationary; bassist Doug Balliett and guitarist Raul Alvarez do the disaffected alt-rock dip and sway and strain their necks a bit toward the microphone to sing backup, but their feet stay otherwise planted in the shag. Albracht moves a bit when his guitaring grows intense, even swiveling his hips with genuine swagger on the instrumental breakdown in “The Particulars,” but the real acrobatics are all verbal, though Albracht’s lyrical sincerity is made suspect by his smart-ass delivery. Set closer “Take to the Seas” requires Albracht to cram “leave my salty spare possessions where you found them please” into rhythm then, worse, “You don’t desire to acquiesce to that request but you will I guess it’s for the best.” Add a line about slitting sheets in New York and it’s a veritable oral obstacle course. Sweat streams glisten down his neck, but miraculously his tongue never slips, and his sincerity is inscrutable. The easiest way inside that head might actually be silverware.