Maps - Turning The Mind Album Review
Review of Maps album Turning The Mind released through Mute.
Having achieved a glut of critical acclaim courtesy of 2007's Mercury nominated 'We Can Create', James Chapman (a.k.a. Maps) could have been forgiven had he chosen to plough the same furrow as it were. Successfully administered formulas aren't that easy to come by after all, and with a debut record that bore such a distinctive sound both in Chapman's hushed angelic vocal style and lush ambient psychedelic musical arrangements, one couldn't have expected such drastic changes as those made in the initial stages of 'Turning The Mind'.
For starters, Chapman made the brave decision not to use guitars at any point during the recording process with this record, instead focusing on a more club-orientated, dense electronic backdrop to each and every one of 'Turning The Mind''s twelve creations. Secondly, the lyrics broach more personal matters than on its predecessor, as drugs ('Valium In The Sunshine', 'Chemeleon', 'I Dream Of Crystal'), relationships ('Love Will Come', 'Nothing'), sobriety ('Without You') and even vitriolic rants against the current faceless dance music scene ('The Note (These Voices)') fully justify Chapman's statement that he's constructed an aggressive and angrier record than anything previously associated with Maps. Finally, the decision to work with Death In Vegas mainstay Tim Holmes in the legendary Contino Rooms studio appears to have paid dividends, not least in the industrial, almost warehouse-like sound that engulfs 'Turning The Mind' practically from start to finish.
That's not to say that everything here works, particularly after the first few listens. If anything, 'Turning The Mind' is a challenging prospect from the outset, especially when contrasted and compared to the more accessible moments on 'We Can Create' such as 'Don't Fear' or 'You Don't Know Her Name'. However, perseverance is the key here, and even though lead single 'Let Go Of The Fear' bears a strong similarity to latter day Pet Shop Boys (and not necessarily in a good way) and 'Nothing' drags on a good ninety seconds too long for its own sanity, they're minor blips on what is a finely tuned collection of sweet and sour asides whose musical subtlety and lyrical angst compliment each other like a technological yin and yang.
'I Dream Of Crystal', with its whimsical overtone on the surface carries a more sinister subtext underneath, with Chapman declaring 'I will hit you as hard as I can' before imploring his subject to 'get the f*ck off my case'. Its certainly a far cry from 'To The Sky' or 'It Will Find You''s more dreamlike voyages on his debut offering two years ago, and there is no let up as the likes of 'Valium In The Sunshine', 'Papercuts' and 'Everything Is Shattering' offer a similarly destructive angle to their creator's thought processes.
Its not all negative cries of anger though; 'Love Will Come' offers a simplistic voice of optimism around the album's midpoint that suggests maybe Chapman's fortunes were taking a turn for the better while penultimate number 'Die Happy, Die Smiling', despite the obvious forlorn sentiments in the title, offers the record's most blissfully eloquent five-and-a-half minutes.
While its unlikely radio pluggers will be delving deep into 'Turning The Mind' to fill those prime time slots on their schedules any time soon, Chapman has endeavoured hard to concoct a record that flows in the context of how an album should do, and although it perhaps wasn't the easiest of collections to oversee given the circumstances in which it was written and recorded, it provides a fascinating insight into the occasionally troubled mind of one of the decade's most understated (and homegrown) musicians.
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