Is there some memo going around telling one-man acts that they have to choose plural names to perform under? Is it some kind of inferiority complex at being one person, or just the desire to hear newbie fans say, “Oh yeah, I love their stuff,” thus displaying their ignorance? The Streets, I’m looking at you. Coming onto this “I’m more than just one person” scene is James Chapman, a.k.a. Maps, with his debut album We Can Create (Mute). While the sounds all emanate from one source, they certainly rival anything coming from most bands.
Maps first came onto the scene in 2006 with his self-released Start Something EP, and has since received some favorable reviews and playtime in his native land of England. The debut album takes songs from the EP, refining their sound with production from Valgeir Sigurdsson (Bjork) and mixing by Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros), and adds the rest of the tracks that resulted from Chapman sequestering himself in his bedroom with a 16-track recorder and his own thoughts. That’s right, this electronic album was done the old-fashioned analog way, though one would be hard-pressed to find any shortcomings in this method. If anything, the only possible problem with Maps’ methodology is that when it comes down to it, he really is one person, with one perspective on the music, and this comes across on the album.
From the first song, “So Low, So High”, it feels like something big is about to happen. The song explodes with a chorus of “ah”s, as though you are experiencing a revelation at that moment. Chapman’s voice comes in at a whisper, singing, “Strange you feel so low, then you feel so high.” It fits the music perfectly, like that one instant when things completely turn around from their darkest point. If I could describe this song in cinematic terms, as this type of music lends itself easily to, it would have to be the background to the scene at the end of The Neverending Story where Bastion and the Princess are sitting in the dark, after Fantasia has been destroyed. I’m telling you, you’ll hear it and agree.
The remaining songs on the album are all pretty stellar, with very few dips, except for the final two tracks, which go on a bit too long. Listeners who have made it that far through the album, however, will have reached the point where this is hardly an imposition. If you want to have fun while listening to the album, try playing the game “Which is a single?” Not to ruin it for you, but there really aren’t many wrong answers. “Don’t Fear”, “Start Something”, and “Lost My Soul” were all released as singles on the previous EP, while “Elouise” was a featured iTunes UK single of the week. “It Will Find You” and “So Low, So High” have “single” written all over them, if they aren’t ones already, and “You Don’t Know Her Name” is apparently the U.S. single. Seriously, it’s a little ridiculous when one album has something like seven singles. It says a lot about the product, though it is arguable that while each song individually sells the Maps sound, as a grouping they might overload a listener with variations on a similar theme. Separately, they all have a cinematic quality about them that will probably conquer a few soundtracks or commercials in the near future. If Garden State had come out just a few years later, “So Low, So High”, “It Will Find You”, or “Lost My Soul” would definitely have been in the background.
The shortcomings of the album are clearly in the lyrics. Chapman has perhaps two suitable lines in an entire album of vague poetry that sounds like Beckett’s dialogue if it was meant to be taken seriously. He claims to have woken up singing “Elouise”, which I think goes to show what Ambien is capable of. The themes are basically about love, loss of love, finding love, and all the other types of emotions one would expect from someone shut up in his apartment for weeks on end. There’s very little depth to any of the sentiments, the rhymes are lamentable, and for those who happen to look at the inside booklet before listening to the music, “It Will Find You”, a complex composition that extends to over five minutes, it will be painful to realize that he just sings the same four lines over and over, and they suck. Vocally, Chapman isn’t much of an instrument, either. The whispering works at first, and then you realize it’s because he’s got the range of your average karaoke singer on a Friday night. Thankfully, his voice often takes a backseat to the music, which remains stellar.
For a debut from one man, it’s quite an impressive album, and there are more than the normal share of great, otherworldly songs that blend the sounds of Spiritualized, The Postal Service, and even The Stone Roses. Maybe the next time around he’ll find someone to collaborate a little with, and get out of the house a bit, so we can get a little thematic range to complement the compositions. - Eric Silver