Maps - Turning the Mind

Maps - Turning the Mind

Mute Records

 

Unless you've been living under a rock, you might have noticed that the music press has already crowned 2009 The Year Second Albums Stopped Being Shite. We could pontificate for ages on the accuracy or otherwise of this typically sweeping generalisation (and its resultant increase in use of the ghastly word "s*ph*m*re") but you all know the much-cited examples already. But let's be honest, how hard exactly was it going to be for The Horrors to make a better album than Strange House? The average llama could have made a better album than Strange House. For Maps, however, there was a somewhat higher watermark to exceed. Trailblazing from a Northamptonshire bedroom via Iceland all the way to the 2007 Mercury nomination list, We Can Create was about as perfect a debut album as anyone's made in recent years, so a few months back when James Chapman started firing off blog posts about how this one was going to basically walk all over it, we so wanted to believe him, but... well, nine times out of ten when someone starts saying things like that you steel yourself for some indulgent folly. Thing is we always had an inkling this wasn't going to be like that. And then he walked out on stage at (Liverpool's long-running electro night) EVOL and slipped his coat off to reveal the album's title tattooed bold and black down the length of his pale skinny forearm and it was like yep, he means it all right.

 

"Oh my god, where are the guitars!!?" - the voice of a retreating clutch of shivering shoegazers, as the download-only single Let Go Of The Fear slipped out quietly in May. We downloaded, we pressed play... and four minutes of glorious Technicolor techno later we scraped ourselves off the ceiling. Then there were live shows in July - the response to which was kind of mixed. Going all electro-rave was fair enough, said the general consensus, but what about the genius pop anthems? Where's the descendant of, say, You Don't Know Her Name? Yeah, whatever, blah, blah; actually, pop kids, it's right here, it's called Everything is Shattering and it is capable of breaking your heart into little pieces and making you grin like an axolotl (Google it) all at the same time. And the rest of the album? Well, he was right. End to end, this is stunning.

 

Better than We Can Create? You better believe it. However much Incendiary loves that debut (which is a lot) it did seem just a little bit, well, flavoured. As in, there was quite a bit of Valgeir Sigurdsson going on in there. This, however, is the unfettered musical manifesto of one man and his vision (co-producer Tim Holmes serves only to enhance and help realise the ideas), of stunningly beautiful songs interspersed with deliciously vibrant techno pieces. Twelve tracks, not a turkey among them. Start at the beginning - the title track opens with a vulnerable near-whisper, and the raw emotions come flooding out followed by washes of synthesised euphoria, and that's this album all over, really. States of mind and glorious symphonic electronica, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes coinciding, but all melting together beautifully. Valium In The Sunshine is as lyrically blissed out as the title suggests whilst musically almost elegiac - it's a trick he pulled before on early single Don't Fear and nobody does it better, whilst lead single I Dream Of Crystal has some harsh words for someone set to a sun-blazed trip that recalls the wide-eyed wonder of Primal Scream's Come Together. In fact the highs and lows of Turning The Mind as a whole echo Screamadelica; here too you'll find thundering calls to the dance-floor (the trance-infused Love Will Come) alongside lonely journeys into the soul (Nothing). By the time it fades out with the forward-looking Without You no emotion has been left uncharted.

 

We hear there are still people out there who do not consider music made with silicon chips to be "real" or as valid as that made with guitars, and this album is unlikely to change their viewpoint, especially as they're probably all sat in their caves mourning Oasis whilst trying to craft rudimentary tools from bits of flint or something. For anyone who's still not quite sure, though, this is your way in: amongst the chips and wires and beats and bleeps is one of the most human records you'll hear this year.

 

Words: Cath Aubergine

http://www.myspace.com/mapsmusic