July 9th marks the release of Vicissitude, the latest album by Maps. It is the work of Northampton based producer James Chapman, who wrote and recorded the album entirely by himself. As on his previous efforts, Chapman is not shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve. This time around, he ditched the upbeat dance-pop of his last two albums for a much more somber affair.
Vicissitude gathers much of its melodic sensibility from early 4AD/shoegaze acts, and looks back even further for instrumental inspiration. The layers of synths and drum machines contained within are the product of early minimal synth-pop groups, rooted in a time where pop stars were trying to inject some credibility and seriousness into a genre that subsisted on goofy haircuts and nonsensical lyrics.
The album doesn’t deviate from this template much, but there are two tracks stand out amongst the bunch. With its understated vocals and syncopated keyboard lines, “I Heard Them Say” sounds like a b-side from Violator-era Depeche Mode. It is cold, but manages to avoid alienating the listener. Chapman has clearly laboured over the programming on Vicissitude, and it shows here. Another strong number is “Nicholas”, which that bears the most resemblance to the aforementioned 4AD label of all the songs. Slow and hypnotic, it is buried in a wash of keyboard swells and cavernous vocals. The emphasis here is not so much on a hook as it is a mood, and Chapman succeeds in this as well.
When creating an album using supposedly dated sounds, one can run the risk of sounding like a pastiche. Thankfully, Chapman can reference earlier decades and simultaneously sound completely removed from them. Vicissitude may not break any molds, but it is a rewarding listen for seasoned and new fans of electronica.