Written By: Heather Wysocki
Label: Mute – Rating:
“Die Happy, Die Smiling,” “Papercuts,” and “Valium in the Sunshine.” If basing the decision on how much of a role model Maps are exclusively on song titles, Maps is the worst. Role model. Ever.
Despite Maps’ propensity for uber-hipster bad-advice song titles – plus a band name and synthy sound that make it impossible not to think of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Turning the Mind is a musical journey, one that follows the Frostian advice to take the road less traveled in order to get to a place far more penultimate than your true destination.
That place, according to Maps’ only member James Chapman, is super-consciousness: the state where total relaxation meets hyperawareness. It’s not usually the sort of place a techno-pop album can take you, but it’s one they should definitely start visiting.
U.K. native Chapman mixes fantasy video-game sounds and some mighty cool indie-electronic notes with hypnotic vocals, luckily bringing listeners to a place more reminiscent of Middle Earth than the World of Warcraft and crafting music that is far better than the sum of its parts.
“Valium in the Sunshine” must’ve been named for the feelings it produces, while another one of those oddly titled tracks, “Die Happy, Die Smiling,” is a cerebral slash of made-you-think lyrics and made-you-blink-at-the-strobe-light beats.
The heavy hands of Bjork producer Valgeir Sigurosson and Sigur Ros mixer Ken Thomas are extremely evident here, but Chapman brings something else to the airy-but-industrial sounds those two artists call their trademark: an all-at-once sophistication and cheekiness that Britain will always, always be more successful at than Scandinavians.
Everything’s not super-duper in Chapman’s world, though; title track “Turning the Mind” is a little too pitchy, high and strong like espresso, not the mellower oolong tea of other, more successful tracks such as “I Dream of Crystal” and “Nothing.”
With a lot of atmospheric pop-rock, it’s easy to get caught up in the pretty sounds and overlook sometimes so-so lyrics. But Maps’ words are more Eminem than earthy, a mix of fightin’ words and pro-cocaine ditties; Chapman’s a guy who definitely grew up on the grittier side of Pickadilly Circus.
If MGMT members Ben Goldwassser and Andrew Van Wyngarden knocked off the ecstasy eating and tried some Oxycotin, maybe they’d stop singing about mythical animals and reach the level of perfectly imperfect sounds that Chapman creates.
It’s difficult to know what Maps would sound like live, as a band only joins Chapman in his quest for indie treasure when Maps plays concerts. But for now, it’s okay not to know, since the destination reached through listening to Turning the Mind is way better than any sticky-floored concert venue could ever be.