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Maps - Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. (Album Review)

Monday, 20 May 2019 Written by Graeme Marsh

James Chapman’s fourth long player with his Maps project finds him steering into orchestration with the help of the Echo Collective and skills he developed in childhood as a violinist. “The orchestral instrumentation and addition of other musicians and singers played a huge part in finding the purer and more human emotion I was searching for,” he says.

But, after the success of his previous three albums, there will be plenty out there hoping for more of the same. What that same is, exactly, is more difficult to pinpoint, with Maps originally starting out as a bedroom shoegaze act before delving into electronica, but what’s certain is that ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is something very different.

‘Vicissitude’, Maps’ 2013 LP,  hit the spot in several places, as their electronica was occasionally given a dancey feel not too dissimilar to Beloved.

Here, though, the orchestral dabblings form the heart of the record and it struggles to escape a glut of one-paced, identikit tracks that amount to a laborious sort of routine.

Opener Surveil announces the album’s arrival, like a brass fanfare, before Chapman’s hushed vocal style kicks in. It’s all very laid back, with some lush string arrangements providing a firm indication of what to expect on the following nine tracks.

Both Sides is a little chirpier, but has that nagging feeling of an entire song being squeezed out of a simple riff and uninspiring chorus before things warm up towards its conclusion. Weak melodies fail to elevate Howl Around, although the underlying blend of instrumentation remains rich, and Wildfire feels like a Moby impersonation as its melodies fall short, with some stunning backing vocals and strings supporting a lyrically-challenged chorus.

Sophia fares better with a more pleasing hook, but it becomes quickly played out as the song drowns in the very thing that made it stand out in the first place. It’s symptomatic of the wider problem: everything is so similar that there simply aren’t many highlights, if any, to hold on to. There’s a small venture towards something more dramatic during the closing two tracks, New Star and You Exist In Everything, but these brushes of colour come too late.

Chapman has had his fair share of detractors in the past, since his excellent Mercury-nominated debut ‘We Can Create’ blew so many away. Previous criticisms were probably undeserved in the main but ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’, despite an admirable attempt to take the project in a new direction, isn’t going to change many of those minds.

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