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Music Review: Maps – Turning the Mind

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Turning The Mind is the sophomore CD from Maps, comprised of James Chapman, and no one else. Chapman’s vision took hold in the mid 2000s, and his 2007 debut, We Can Create, was shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Award in the UK.

There’s an eerie similarity between Maps and M83, especially in the way each use lush electronic orchestration to layer sounds on one another, creating a pastiche of otherworldly sounds. But Maps might have the edge in variety; the songs move from indie pop to quasi-trance. It’s a record that’s at times uneven and unmemorable, and at other times catchy, intriguing, and a perfect amalgam of styles and sounds.

“I Dream of Crystal” transposes harsher lyrics with a faint droning backbeat. There’s a nice nuance to the music, alternately evocative, yet not cloyingly so. Chapman’s vocals fir this song nicely, weaving in and out of the soaring chorus. “Die Happy, Die Smiling”, the first single, is a catchy slice of electro-indie pop. “You’re Not Happy and You’re Not Smiling” refrain plays over and over, lodging itself firmly into your inner brain within seconds of hearing the song. It’s definitely a one-off, as the rest of the record needs a few listens to really gel. Time will tell if the novelty of “Die Happy” runs out or if it will truly stand up to the rest of the more complex tracks.

"Let Go of the Fear" is reminiscent of a Pet Shop Boys song, a driving beat with spoken vocals. “Love Will Come” is a trance-like track made for the dancefloor. Using swirling tones and a barely audible looping background vocal that sounds eeriely similar to the one featured in Everything But The Girl’s “Lullaby of Clubland” , “Love Will Come” breaks out of the gate as one of the more memorable and certainly danceable tracks on the CD. Other strong tracks include, “Everything is Shattering” and “The Note”, two thick slices of straight ahead retro new wave synth-pop.

Some songs like the opener “Turning the Mind”, “Without You” and “Nothing” are, well, nothing special. There’s a big drop off in songwriting. If they were culled, Turning the Mind would be close to perfect. Still, this is a CD that takes the best of a number of genres and distills it into a memorable collection of lush electronic music. And the one thing that these tracks have is a good deal of emotional weight, something that’s often lacking from dreampop and pastoral electronic music.

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