Maps debut album ‘We Can Create’ was a nebulae burst, the explosions gravitating around the electro disco ‘You Don’t Know Her Name’ and the propulsive splendour of ‘Elouise’. Second album ‘Turning the Mind’ was aptly named, personal struggles and addictions pulling cognition asunder to expose troubling storm clouds on the party frontier, denial ably demonstrated in the lyrics of ‘I Dream of Crystal’: ‘With the pills and the gin, I can handle bout anything’.
James Chapman’s forte however is to explore the highs and lows with equal candour; the inevitable fall from family grace laid bare in ‘Turning the Mind’, ‘why is it you pollute all our lives with your lies?’ a sentiment that leads the man to become boy in the genuinely moving plea that is as much reassurance as it is heartfelt request ‘my Father, Mother love me both’, a harbour required from the seas of hedonism.
Four years on from the tumult, Maps ten track ‘Vicissitude’ has arrived and the question we are compelled to ask is ‘How is he?’ “The whole album is about change; it’s about dealing with a struggle – whatever that may be – and ultimately coming through it” says Chapman. “Although things are good for me now, every song on the record comes from a long period of me having to take stock, to start again almost…’Vicissitude’ was definitely the hardest record to make and ultimately the most fulfilling too.”
Life’s contrasts are explored once more. The looming synth edifice of Built to Last for example contains an ominous mass within the echoing expanse; rumbling bass lines bolster lyrics warning ‘You should know to never kick a man when he’s down’ and then the contrast – the structure falters, crumbles away to glinting electronica, shattered to dust and blown away on the breeze.
This construction/demolition loop is played in reverse through the downtempo electopop of album opener AMA. Unobtrusive percussion, steadily building layers and hushed intonations lead to a chorus that detaches itself from the minimal verse and bursts to reveal opaque horizons shimmering under aquamarine skies.
The struggle towards the light is perhaps most clearly defined by the warped bass drum of Vicissitude, snatched vocal delivery, chords rising slowly from the black unseen sea bed, melodies floating towards the surface, tendrils of light reaching down, stretching out through the liquid, the goal of warmth filtered by the cold motionless surround.
In a similar vein, This Summer communicates a sense of hope that the darkest hours have passed, ‘The world had changed unrecognisably, lost to a false reality for so long”, acknowledgement that change was required, the process of change brought about by the lyrical cornerstone ‘Forgive yourself’ a process one suspects had to be enforced. Typically, as the clouds part Chapman chooses to accompany the enlightenment with shadowy synth strings, as if uneasy with the concept of redemption.
A less familiar proposition is the surreal Nicholas, a track swathed in nursery rhyme twilight, gently marching percussion and sinister whisperings. It has a slightly disturbing atmosphere, as if musically depicting the unsettling time when a child first considers the concept of mortality, the colourful glaze of childhood scuffed by the discovery that all things must end.
‘Vicissitude’ continues Chapman’s successful marriage of electronic peripherals with human yearning, exploring relationships between cold logic and raw emotion. His music constructs identifiable and recognisable worlds. Whether a comfortable undertaking or not, Chapman isn’t so much an artist that wears his heart on his sleeve, as one who painstakingly reproduces every beat, skip and ache through rolling electronic scenery; contrasting moods faithfully portrayed by darkened synthesized hues and orbiting strobes of colour. His greatest gift is his unnerving ability to place you firmly in his shoes.
Here we showcase ‘AMA from the new album, and to provide a taster of past glories, a remix of Elouise from ‘We Can Create’.
This review first appeared in Issue 3 of Electronic Sound, a new magazine dedicated to electronic music past and present, with a diverse mix of genres and an eye for emerging talent. Grab your copy here: http://electronicsound.co.uk/