Friday, December 4, 2009


Turning the Mind (11.09, Mute)

For: Spiritualized, I Like Where I Live, The Big Pink

Byline:A redemptive saga of addiction and self-loathing set to club-ready beats, swirling electronic upswells, and down-comforter warm synth washes. Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

It has been eight years since J. Spaceman’s Fitzcarraldo-esque epic Let it Come Down chronicled his bouts with addiction, debauchery, recovery and redemption. Now, Northampton electronic musician James Chapman under the moniker Maps has produced something that attempts to capture Let it Come Down in scope, epic range, and thematic weight, only with 114 less studio musicians than Mr. Spaceman. Instead of recruiting Mimi Parker, an orchestra, and a full vocal choir, Chapman hurls his longings, insecurities, and self-loathing against a wall of synthesizers, sequencers, percussion-heavy piano lines and house-beats in a grandiose display of dirty laundry airing and cathartic bleeding on the dance floor.

Why? Frontman Yoni Wolf hit on a universal truth earlier this year after spurting out some hyper-confessional lines that would make any mother blush. Wolf stated, “You think saying all this in public would make me feel funny / but sometimes you gotta yell something out you wouldn’t tell nobody.” True. By making up in volume what you would have rather kept hidden, you eliminate both the shame and the shamefulness of the action. Maps takes this moral relativism baton and runs with it. If Chapman wants to do drugs, get in fights in clubs, self-destruct and piece himself together before our eyes, he begs us to watch with sympathy or at least be cool with it.

As a songwriter, Chapman doesn’t quite have the pluck or the lovable ne’r-do-well charm to distinguish himself from among the huddled masses of British mopecore electronica. Where J. Spaceman could turn a phrase like “the only time I’m drink or drug free / is when I get my drink and drugs for free,” Chapman is forced to give us literal journal entries about life buckling under the weight of an existence free from any sort of real responsibility, and then being crushed when reality sets in. His lament in “I Dream of Crystal” turns accusatory to those who might question his self-destruction, saying, “Please, don’t get me wrong / but you can’t knock what you’ve never done / it ain’t always fun / but at least you’ll be living some.” He comes very near to rapping about “cocaine-frenzies” in “Let Go of the Fear.”

Musically, Maps charts its course along the tail end of the electronica-shoegaze movement of the last couple years that has only recently been imported stateside. Finding a comfortable place in the company of late M83 and Scottish wunderkind I Like Where I Live, Maps sonic palate is stuffed with down-comforter warm synth washes and heavy house beats. The deep percussion of a piano key stroke and the upswell swirling electronics provide all the emotional punch this record needs. His breathy, heavily-accented British falsetto evokes a cool detachment from his subject matter. This objective narrator is allowed to pour all of his self-loathing tendencies into a character who may or may not be Chapman’s doppelganger. The final track “Without You” bids adieu to this character with whom the audience has seen fall apart with the send off, “It’s taken all my life to learn so much about you / if all I know is right / then I’ll go on without you.” The journey ends on a hopeful note; Chapman learns to put away a selfish and self destructive lifestyle.

The title and phrase Turning the Mind serve as a heady, introspective foil for Chapman’s extroverted, club-ready jams. “Turning of the Mind” both refers to an internal change that frees up inhibitions while in a chemically altered state as well as a mental state in which a mysterious catalyst propels us to willfully avoid the harsh reality of a situation. Some people just can’t say no. He makes the case that both are spiritually empty ways of living. Chapman finds solace through exposition: by turning his deepest secrets out to the crowd and drowning them in a massive club beat and synth wash.

Ryan H.

Maps "I Dream of Crystal" video.

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