Mercury-nominated Northampton composer/producer Maps (James Chapman) releases his highly-anticipated fourth album ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ on the 10th May 2019 through Mute – it is his first album since 2014’s self-cathartic “Vicissitude”.
Three years in the making, ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is illuminated by the richness of life experience. It is an album he could only have made now and one that represents a creative reinvention for Maps. ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is an ambitious album that sees the bedroom producer step out of the bedroom with his most collaborative project to date, including work with classical ensemble The Echo Collective, percussionists and guest vocalists from across the world.
These stunning, immersive and impressionistic songs, scored and produced by Maps himself, are inspired by an orchestral approach and by the rolling Northamptonshire countryside beyond the window of his studio, which provides peace, isolation and inspiration. “Surveil” – the current single release – opens the album and is an uplifting song enveloping the listener from the start, with a warm opening section of layered harmonies, choral vocals, and the brass and strings of Echo Collective. It then builds into a joyous, anthemic blend of soaring orchestral and electronic sounds, as Chapman sings “You never hear them sing. You never hear them scream. There’s no one listening.” Commenting on ‘Surveil’ Maps reveals: “The opening of the track is resonant of a simpler time – as the song progresses I was pushing for a euphoric escape with the music, with an undercurrent of uncertainty from the lyrics. It gives a taste of the overall sound and themes of the album.”
‘Both Sides’ was written and recorded in Maps’ studio with Brussels-based ensemble Echo Collective performing the string and brass arrangements and Matt Kelly providing the driving drums. Drawing some influence from his love of the Italian composers of 60’s and 70’s soundtracks, Maps was interested in blending the use of electronic sounds with a range of live instruments. There are two sides to a story, just as there are two sides to this song and the second half is a swirling, euphoric instrumental arrangement, pushing ever upwards into a blissful, kaleidoscopic ending. Maps explain further: “The difference between appearance and reality can sometimes be complex, and I wanted to explore that relationship on ‘Both Sides’. It was one of the first tracks that I scored arrangements for while making the album. I wanted the song to build slowly throughout, and for the orchestral instrumentation to really shine in the second half of the song. It was a joy to make!” It is certainly a joy to listen to – tangibly trippy thanks to a plethora of psychedelic keynotes.
“Wildfire” is cinematically beautiful with a soaring quality to its chorus. Racing drum beats, velvety violins, crisp cello and choral backdrops add a lush soundscape. From 3 minutes, 40 seconds in, the song builds in intensity turning virtually hymnic in sound, thanks to keyboard scales of gorgeous celestial synths. “Just Reflecting” interestingly starts like an ending due to a dwindling of drawn-out orchestral strings which transforms into a classical introduction, almost reminiscent of a composition by Pachelbel but with regular drum beats and Chapman’s brooding vocal. The orchestra takes centre stage on this track and it’s a rousing and stirring listen from start to finish.
The enchanting “She Sang To Me” is next and sounds like a lullaby sung by angels with blasts of brass whilst the expansive “Sophia” shines with layers and layers of strings and warm, tender textures of Chapman’s voice.
Xylophone notes introduce “The Plans We Made”, a rather majestic little number that takes unexpected changes in pace and is a vortex of synths and strings. Chapman’s distorted vocal gives the song a futuristic tone with pulses of electric beats and twinkling keys whilst the cello adds warmth and tone. Interwoven vocals add to the musical maelstrom and it’s the most inventive song on the album.
The album closes with “You Exist In Everything”. Glistening guitars and electronica dance around each other in a rousing partnership whilst the violins and brass compete. Sprinkles of synth sound like raindrops as the brass becomes bolder increasing the melodrama and intensity. This final song is what the entire album is all about – the art of combining orchestra with electronica into a single entity. Maps states: “I wanted to push everything to the limit with this record, and explore new territory for Maps. 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. I learnt the violin as I was growing up, so I’m glad it finally came in useful!”
Well, he certainly has achieved that – Maps has created an assured and hopeful album with lavish atmospheres of sound thanks to contributions from Echo Collective and others. If “Vicissitude” was the album in which James Chapman went back to his acoustic roots and leapt – then “Colour.Reflect.Time.Loss.” is the flight.