James Chapman’s impeccable musical compass has guided him in devising Maps, a heavenly solo project of kaleidoscopic sonic tapestries and unending optimism.
Wielding layers of guitar, piano, synthesizer, violin, mandolin, harmonium, samples and drums, this native of Northampton, England, saturates his work with the lush drone of shoegaze. On “So Low, So High,” the initial track on the debut full-length from Maps, We Can Create, Chapman sings, “We can create I say/so why destroy our time?” He follows this line of thinking throughout the disc, not wasting a second on anything less than brilliant.
“The album is a collection of tracks I’ve written over the past few years and which worked together to create a euphoric-sounding record,” he explains via email.
Each song swells with Chapman’s effervescent vocals, and gorgeous reverb dominates, especially on the intoxicating “Elouise.” In this soon-to-be-classic track, Chapman breathily croons an anthem that repeats endlessly in your head after the first listen. And he never loses his sense of direction on the record, sounding equally comfortable with lavish arrangements and the stripped-down balladry of songs like “Glory Verse,” with its minimalistic beats, spare piano and floating synths.
Chapman’s ability to seamlessly fuse pop songwriting and electronics has emerged after only a few years of going it alone. “Initially it was just on a beat-up old four-track cassette recorder, but over the years, I picked up more and more pieces of equipment and built a kind of home studio in my bedroom.”
Over the course of several years, he graduated from four tracks to 16, and chose to stick with what he knew for We Can Create instead of attempting to make the leap to digital: “If I’d have used a computer it would have probably sounded a bit rubbish, because I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was doing!”
His exuberance while he’s discussing his music, even when he’s happily revealing his lack of knowledge about certain technologies, seems boundless. Channeling this energy into his record as he plotted its coordinates often meant nonstop nights.
“Basically I just keep working and working until I feel like the puzzle is solved,” he explains. “I normally work throughout the night; I sometimes find it hard to stop!”
To translate the majestic beauty of We Can Create to a live setting, Chapman performs with a full band, handling guitar and sequencer himself, and then enlisting help from two keyboardists (who also sing backup), a drummer and a bassist. The group’s bound for its first U.S. tour, and since We Can Create was nominated for the U.K.’s prestigious Mercury Prize, Chapman’s been riding high.
“I honestly never dreamt any of this would happen,” he says. “I had no idea the record would connect with so many people: It’s overwhelming.”
Sept. 28, Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (at Ave. A), 212-260-4700; 7, $10. (Sept. 29, Luna Lounge)
MUST READ NEWS
Sign up to get our newsletter emailed to you every week!
- Enter your email address in the box below.
- Select the newsletters you would like to subscribe to.
- Click the 'SUBSCRIBE' button.