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Album review: Maps

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James Chapman, aka Maps, is an East Northamptonshire songwriter, producer and remixer. He started his electronic shoegaze efforts back in 2004, and he was picked up by Mute Records. His 2007 debut album We Can Create was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. These basic facts are worth restating, as one suspects that most folk under 30 in Northants would probably not be au fait with his output. Which is understandable: he’s an outskirts type of guy after all, not a fame-hungry media whore.

Now on to his fourth album, Chapman has substantially rethought his usual working process [i.e. sitting in his bedroom, endlessly tinkering] and brought in a whole range of outside players, most notably Berlin’s Echo Collective, to help with strings and things. A more collaborative approach has bought its just rewards, as this is easily his most engaging work since that leftfield debut that took the Earls Barton boy on a quite remarkable journey around the world.

The album immediately brings to mind fellow Midlanders Spiritualized, mixing the ethereal psychedelic rushes he’s always conjured from his synths and guitars, but adding the warmth of brass and a drummer [Matt Kelly] who’s loud enough in the mix to push everything eternally onwards in propulsion. The sound is a natural progression of the previous album’s approach – it’s still unmistakably Maps, right from the breathless vocals of ‘Surveil’ that kicks things off. Maps has always been about miniature symphonic pop songs, but experimenting with the form. The songs are more suites, and Chapman rarely goes for the jugular. However ‘Both Sides’ here has enough accessibility to actually be a radio hit. ‘Howl Around’ is the sound of an animal trying to escape a cage, elegantly. ‘Wildfire’ captures a very specific emotional state that is both simultaneously euphoric and melancholic. You might need a lie down after hearing it.

Such heightened themes continue throughout, and unlike most modern albums there’s no flagging towards the end. ‘Just Reflecting’ is as huge as the buildings in the accompanying video [see below]. ‘She Sang To Me’ shows he can be more serene, sedate; bucolic even. Wait for the closing ‘You Exist In Everything’: with it’s sci-fi other-worldliness it could be the soundtrack to a peculiarly English documentary film on BBC Four. Certainly it’s splendour deserves quadraphonic speakers, not tinny smartphone devices.

Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss is as bold, grand, and wholly sparkling with ideas as you could hope for. It’s great to have him back.

Phil Moore


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