Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: Calvin Harris, James Chapman, Maps, Neil Tennant, Pet Shop Boys, Releases of the Week, Turning the Mind, We Can Create
PREVIEW: DOWNLOAD Maps’ “I Dream of Crystal” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts
James Chapman, aka Maps, earned considerable recognition from his 2007 release, We Can Create, which earned a Mercury Prize nomination following its debut. Chapman’s sophomore effort, Turning the Mind, has a distinctly different feel, yet manages to add to his impressive catalogue.
In February 2009, Chapman posted in his Myspace blog, “I’ve never been more confident and excited about this new album.” The eagerly anticipated release from this Northampton-based electro artist was said to be much different than his past endeavors, a promise that he definitely made good on. Is it for the better, though?
One of the album’s clear strengths is the cohesiveness of the message behind the record’s concept. When asked in an interview that appeared on the aforementioned blog what the album was about, Chapman said that it would focus on “mental states” and “chemicals.” He couldn’t have been more honest, as we can now see.
While the mood of the album is constantly changing from one of absolute elatedness to misery to anger, its focus on drug use is apparent throughout. The album is much darker than We Can Create, solely because of the subject matter. It possesses a destructive, yet hopeful focus that gives the album a surprisingly schizophrenic feeling. Chapman seems to be tracing a clearly self-destructive path on a quest to happiness. The two ideas work extremely well with one another and give the album a strong multi-dimensional feel.
However, while the message and meaning behind the record is noteworthy, the musical aspect of it comes up a bit short at times. The music is unmistakably British synthpop inspired in the style of artists like Calvin Harris, but lacks the weight of some of Chapman’s predecessors. The Pet Shop Boys’ influence in the album is blaringly obvious, with Chapman constantly drawing on Neil Tennant’s style of vocals as a model. He also overuses repetition at times, which detracts from any potential significance that it may have had. Songs often draw on a bit longer than necessary, and make you start to long for the end.
While Chapman was extremely adept at developing meaning behind the album, the music left something to be desired. Overreliance on repetition and backgrounds that sound like much of the British synthpop that we’ve been hearing since the aforementioned Pet Shop Boys definitely works against this otherwise noteworthy release. It’s a good try, but unfortunately, we just leave a bit disappointed.
— John Luposello