In utilitarian terms, maps exist to guide people, to help them toward their chosen location, and to prevent them from getting lost. Spend a few spare minutes with your nose in the Thomas Guide, examining the twists and turns, serpentine circuits of highways and by-ways, side streets, interstates, overpasses and interchanges, however, and you could easily get lost in their winding, coiling mesh. I’ve had friends that could unfold a road map and just stare at them, transfixed by the elaborate grids and networks before them. Though the proper route may lie therein, a map can just as easily find you lost.
Fitting, then, that James Chapman, under the name Maps, creates music in which one can easily become lost. Combining the hazy, distorted bliss of shoegazer with danceable electronic pop, Maps’ music has an accessible, albeit idiosyncratic blend that equates to pure, audible magic. On Start Something, an EP released earlier this year, Chapman gave an enticing preview of his hypnotic work, showcasing his first two singles, as well as a few bonus tracks, each one a gorgeous representation of the sonic Utopia Maps’ music inhabits. While that was merely a close-up inset, Chapman’s debut full-length We Can Create unfolds to showcase the whole of this Utopia, and all of its aural majesty.
No song could have better introduced this magical world than “So Low, So High,” a fuzzy, upbeat track that sounds like a catchier, more symphonic My Bloody Valentine, with electronic string sounds soaring and distortion billowing. The psychedelic “You Don’t Know Her Name” follows, swirling like Caribou, back when he was known as Manitoba, albeit with stronger rock leanings, while “It Will Find You” creates a whirlwind of repeated loops, dark and dance-friendly like mid-period Depeche Mode. “To The Sky” is Maps at its most beautiful, revolving around an acoustic guitar loop and the catchiest hook on the album, sounding both gentle and commanding simultaneously, while his voice sounds whisper soft, at times resembling that of Stars’ Torquil Campbell.
At various points on this aural journey, Chapman takes a breather, such as on “Glory Verse,” which comes up a bit short, given the energy and power of the surrounding tracks. To counter the sleepier moments, there are bangers like “Back + Forth,” in which Chapman goes for a Stone Roses through a kaleidoscope feel, which is a much more enticing option. No matter the path that Chapman takes, however, he guides the listener through a beautiful and foreign landscape, one that requires no trail of breadcrumbs or Rand McNally guide to find one’s way again.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.