Justin Sconza | Maps (new album)
Chicago-based singer-songwriter Justin Sconza gracefully fuses modern indie-folk with a touch of old school country in the ten captivating tracks that comprise Maps, the musician's impressive sophomore album release. From my first listen to Maps, I was immediately hooked and pulled in by the warm, charming melodies and alluring atmosphere of the album.
Having played piano and guitar since he was a kid, Justin first played in a series of bands, including early 2000's indie-electronic duo Walter Meego, before discovering a preference to make music on his own. His debut album, Home, was released in the Fall of 2020. "This album came out of the blue," Justin commented at the time of the album's release. "Ideas were floating around for years and then all of a sudden, it felt right." For Maps, Justin opted to record on an 8-track for its simplicity. He comments, "I played and recorded everything on a little Tascam 8-track at home, in different rooms throughout the house."
When you listen to Maps (and previous album Home), you'll hear the occasional bits of background noise (e.g., a dog barking, the sounds of children laughing). Justin remarks, "It was really important to me to keep the background sounds and atmosphere in the recordings because I wanted to remember the actual experience of recording. So that was like a journal in its own way."
Elaborating on the creative process, Justin explains, "I'd been writing these songs for maybe ten years and finally decided to put lyrics to them. For the words, I wanted everything to be impressionistic images of experiences that stood out, even if they were just everyday things. I also consciously never use the word 'I' in the lyrics - I didn't want it to be about me."
Maps feels like a colorful collage of warm sunshine, gentle breezes, and lazy summer afternoons, with a soundtrack in which the listener finds themselves immediately and easily immersed. Mixed and mastered by Colin Yarck, Maps is the perfect accompaniment to a laid back, carefree weekend afternoon. It's also an album where first impressions are telling and lasting. Justin cites his musical influences as "anything that's songy." This quality definitely comes through in all the tracks. You'll find yourself humming along to riffs and melodies long after the Maps listen is over.
Musically, one of the album's standout instruments is the pedal steel, that contributes in a significant way to the old school country feel of several tracks. "I learned how to play the pedal steel over the past two years and I finally got good enough to include it on the album," Justin explains. "I absolutely love the pedal steel - it's so expressive and different sounding. I've been getting into old school country and that combined with the sound of the pedal steel lent a country western flavor to the songs, which I'm totally cool with." Opening track, "All the Time Is Now," is a prime example of the country western flavor Justin describes, with its warm-sounding steel guitar and gentle, descending piano arrangements. The song conjures up elements of the obscure 50's country ballad "Dark Moon" (Bonnie Guitar). This is a fantastic album opener.
Regarding the underlying theme and album title of Maps, Justin reveals, "The themes are happiness, nostalgia, wanting more but not if it means losing what you've got, because right now is so special and great. It's called Maps because that captures the idea of trying to get to different places and not always knowing the way."
As you listen through, along with the old school country flavor, you'll pick up influences of The Beach Boys, Hank Williams, The Beatles, and even a brief channeling of Elton John (vocals on "Life Is Long and Short"). The entire album is a brilliant listen, with my favorites being "All the Time Is Now," "Underneath the Cottonwoods," "How'd You Get There from Here," and "Like Like What It Is."
So, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Maps and the music of Justin Sconza. You won't be disappointed and I'm pretty sure you'll find your own favorites within these ten impressive songs.