Your reaction to Maps’ We Can Create will depend largely on whether you’ve heard of Slowdive, in particular their album Souvlaki, and whether the term “shoegaze” means anything to you. It is also an album that needs several listens to get into, however you approach it. Given time, it is an album that burrows down in the consciousness.
James Chapman, aka Maps, set up a 16-track recorder in his Northampton bedroom and plugged in some real instruments to make an album rooted in feelgood major chords and spectral, transient phrases that glide in and out of the listener’s consciousness without ever lingering. Apeing Slowdive‘s blissed-out vocal style – carried on by front man Neil Halstead to his current outfit Mojave 3 – Maps at times get close to sounding like a shoegaze tribute band. Liquid Sugar sounds as though Halstead was wheeled into the studio for a spot of guest vocals.
But Chapman’s take on the shoegaze subgenre is to give it an electronic spin. In tracks like Lost My Soul he evokes labelmate Moby‘s fragile multi-tracked vocals over electronic backing, resolutely avoiding computers where possible in favour of a selection of processed guitars and battered synths. His fragile vocals will either sound irritatingly samey or soothing, depending on your point of view. And there are parts of this record where the vocals interrupt what are interesting instrumental textures. But it’s Chapman’s music, and if he wants to whisper all over it, that’s his business.
After a few listens, by which time it becomes possible to discern one song from another, clear highlights emerge. It Will Find You is foremost amongst these, a track that should be respun by Paul van Dyk into a trance anthem. Breathy vocals overlay a beat that never bothers kicking in a bass section adequate to dance to but which is instead content to languish in the aural soundscape it creates. It is a thing of beauty.
So if you’ve been wanting another Slowdive record for years and wondered what the band might’ve become had they not morphed into an alt.country outfit, James Chapman provides a compelling answer. Yet We Can Create is unquestionably imbued with his own musical vision too. In short, this is an album that knows its past and looks to the future. Well worth a spin.