Photo: Mute Records

Maps’ ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss’ Is an Expansive, Widescreen Record

Maps' Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss is a triumphantly realized album that finds him taking the concept of Pet Sounds, adding the 1960s folk-pop of the Byrds all while channeling the spaced-out rock of 1990s Spiritualized.

Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss
10 May 2019

To date, every Maps album has found British musician James Chapman wholly committed to a singular musical vision both musically and thematically. Whether it be the dream pop of his breakthrough debut, We Can Create, or the more searching indie electronic of his last album, Vicissitude, each album finds Chapman, capturing in amber, a particular mindset and unique musical approach.

Unsurprising then, that on new album, Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss, Chapman has decided to use a whole new set of tools. The most prominent being the employment of a six-piece orchestra to bring his vision to life. It’s a striking sound, with each song coated in engaging, dreamy string arrangements as well as layered live drums, sweet female harmonies, chiming, folky guitar, and subtle electronics. It’s a triumphantly realized album that finds him taking the concept of Pet Sounds, adding the 1960s folk-pop of the Byrds all while channeling the spaced-out rock of 1990s Spiritualized.

Those orchestral swells greet the listener from the outset, like being introduced to a new friend whose role it is to guide you on a very personal journey. The gentle majesty of the arrangement on “Surveil” is matched by Chapman’s soft vocals that subtly direct the song forwards. Gradually the song shifts as female backing vocals bask in a warm, ethereal glow before leading the song to a life-affirming almost spiritual finale.

Chapman quickens the pace on “Both Sides” with chugging muted guitar chords providing the heartbeat as the strings ebb and flow around it. On “Howl Around”, Chapman constructs the framework of the song from stuttering live drums and gliding guitar notes that seem to get caught in the air. Chapman’s vocals manage the enviable trick of sounding both raw and vulnerable but also self-assured and emphatic, often all in the space of a single line.

There’s a constant back and forth on the album with the lush, orchestral textures being pulled into more melancholic shapes by the lyrics. While often sounding lost and pained, the lyrics steer clear of outright desolation. Rather there is a wistful innocence to them, as Chapman attempts to place himself in the modern world by analyzing how his past has shaped him.

With Chapman enthusiastic about utilizing the abilities of the Echo Collective Orchestra to give the album a singular sound, it would be easy for the songs themselves to get lost. Thankfully, if anything, the strings reinforce the strength of the hooks, especially on “Wildfire”. The song finds Chapman ruminating on the speed in which information including speculation, rumor, and falsehoods can spread in the digital age with no real way of containing them.

“Just Reflecting” finds organ and the strings complimenting each other beautifully, as they produce a rich, spacious sound as if reverberating around the eaves of an old church. Coupled with the wistful, sighing vocals and warm synths it’s a thoughtful, contemplative song that invites listener introspection.

On the heartbreaking “She Sang to Me” the strings tap straight into the soul, while “Sophia” is the closest Chapman has ever got to Byrds-esque pop perfection. The brilliant, “The Plans We Make” combines a springy, upbeat xylophone figure with lightly bubbling synths that rise to the surface for a supreme chorus that catches you in its warm embrace.

The hooks continue on “New Star”, with Chapman conjuring an enormous sound, with the song seemingly containing to grow and spread throughout its run time. The album concludes with “You Exist in Everything”. A song that ties the various musical and thematic threads together perfectly as we are left to contemplate our place in the world and what led us to be here.

Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss is an expansive, widescreen affair that embraces the power of the orchestra to take you on a fulfilling emotional journey. With the music giving the album natural buoyancy, Chapman grants himself the freedom to unpick the thoughts running through his mind. However dark those thoughts may, he always manages to find the hope in sorrow. It’s an excellent, rewarding album that could only have come from an artist with the determination and fortitude to realize such a clear and distinctive vision.

RATING 8 / 10