We've seen our share of bedroom musicians who tinker with electronica, but very few have ever had the results of Maps. James Chapman, a fellow from Northampton UK, has created one of the finest electronic albums we've heard in quite some time, and he recorded it without the use of any computers. The entire record was pieced together on his sixteen-track recorder, making the sheer sound of We Can Create all the more special.
Maps first graced our eardrums back in November, when we discovered his self-released Start Something EP. Chapman has returned with a record label deal with Mute, as well as his debut long player. For We Can Create, he once again recorded and produced the tracks himself, but this time he also had production help from Valgeir Sigurdsson (Bjork) and mixing by Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros). With those two names alone, you can pretty much see where this album is going. It is lush, atmospheric and simply beautiful.
The album begins with "So Low, So High," filled with, well, sonic highs and lows. The vocal passages are slightly quiet, while the pieces in between are bright and bold with a great melodic line that sounds like the combination of echoed vocals, strings and a trumpet. The sonics of this song are huge, proving that this is more than simply an electonica album. "Elouise" starts of as a fairly straightforward glossy pop track, complete with lush vocals and an upbeat drum loop, but an artist with a moniker such as Maps obviously has grand musical ideas in his noggin. As the track enters its final minutes, the sound swells with even more layered vocals, strings and guitars, sounding like My Bloody Valentine if Kevin Shields had listened to more Underworld back in the day.
One of the more interesting tracks on the album is "It Will Find You." Up to this point the songs remained somewhat bright, while this explores the darker side of Chapman. The beat and general vibe brings Massive Attack to mind, but with more of a pop sensibility. This one is filled with interesting sonic textures, with what sounds like a clanging guitar loop, bits of piano, plus Chapman's breathy vocals. The mood lightens up a bit later with the brighter track "To The Sky." He gives us a break from the dense sonics, offering up a melody with warm harmonies, even adding in a touch of the Sigur Ros influences with some interesting vocals a la "Glosoli."
We Can Create ends with two brilliant tracks, "Don't Fear" and "When You Leave." Chapman pushes the boundaries of his heart-stopping sonic extremes even further with "Don't Fear," opening with Radiohead-ish keys and layers upon layers of vocal harmonies. As he repeats "don't fear the sun, feel like someone, some help," the song builds and builds, adding in drums, distorted piano lines, fuzzed out guitars, and just when you think his sixteen-track recorder is about to short out from audio overload, the chorus comes washing back in. It is one hell of a well-crafted song.
Maps outdid himself with his debut LP. This is a huge sounding album, yet Chapman never lets the songs become overwhelming. It remains accessible and awe inspiring, making you wonder how he made such an expansive sounding album in his bedroom without the help of a computer. This is one hell of an accomplishment, and one of the most stunning albums you'll hear this year. Yeah, it is that good.