Maps: We Can Create

No doubt all kinds of ink will be spilled over the fact that James Chapman recorded his Maps debut album We Can Create sans computer assistance, opting instead to splice it together using a battered 16-track recorder in his Northamptonshire bedroom; hopefully, there'll be enough ink left over to note how incredibly good its eleven tracks are. There seems to be a shoegaze revival of sorts going on, as We Can Create joins Alsace Lorraine's Dark One and Rumskib's Rumskib as recent splendid samplings of the genre. It's hard to resist We Can Create when Maps' material teems with fuzz guitar theatrics, harmonies so thick you could get lost in them, and hooks that royally ring out from one tune to the next. The mixing and co-production by Ken Thomas (Sigur Rós) and Valgeir Sigurdsson (Björk), respectively, are as polished and wide-screen as one might expect.

Songs like the joyous “To the Sky,” “Lost My Soul,” and “Don't Fear” are on a poppier tip, especially when their sing-along choruses kick in (love the background ‘Aahs' that swell in “You Won't Know Her Name,” too). “It Will Find You” gives its dark shoegaze roar an injection of funk while Chapman's hushed voice in the stately ballad “Glory Verse” doesn't suffer for being heard so nakedly. The album ends dramatically with the dreamy slow-builder “When You Leave” that takes the album out on a rising wave of chiming electronics and harmonies. Top of the pops? Try “Elouise,” where church organ chords gleam alongside a beehive swarm of guitars while a heavenly vocal choir whispers a killer hook (“Elouise, don't change your mind”)—merely one of many highlights on this fifty-minute mix of pop hooks and anthemic atmosphere.

July 2007