Maps – ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss’ review

The producer rips it up and starts again with this expansive fourth album, recorded with a classical ensemble, on which he sounds as wondrous as ever

The ‘bedroom producer’: a dated term, and one that evokes a certain nostalgia for the period – around the late noughties – when the lone musician, working away from the confines of the music, bedded deep within his or her own creative vision, seemed like a noble figure. As the democratisation of pop has been emboldened, with worldwide successes such as ‘Old Town Road’ borne of European producers selling beats online to American rappers, this no longer seems like a novelty. Where does that leave Maps, aka James Chapman?

Back 2007, the Northampton producer’s debut ‘We Can Create’ seemed so exciting it received a Mercury nomination and Chapman was feted for the expansive sound of his solo project. This was a glitchy electronic album imbued with warmth, hope, optimism and – crucially – a human touch. 2009’s ‘Follow The Mind’ traded childlike wonder for druggy insularity, while 2014’s ‘Vicissitude’ (meaning ‘a change in circumstance’) represented a return to form. In interviews around that time he referred to a “lifestyle rearrangement” that resulted from his curtailing “self-destructive behaviour”; his music sounded wondrous again.

Which brings us to ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’, a departure for Chapman in that it was recorded live with other vocalists, drummers and a classical ensemble named the Echo Collective; it was the first time he’d thrown open to curtains to the outside world in such unabashed fashion. Apparently he’d recorded a solo version of the album already, but decided to blow his advance on travelling to Brussels to work with his new gang of collaborators.

The result is an often thrilling, semi-symphonic ode to joy that peaks with ‘The Plans We Made’, a lilting trip-hop nursery rhyme on which Chapman sighs through the line “there’s only so much I can do” like a man who’s suffered a thousand defeats and still maintains his optimism. ‘Both Sides’ is propulsive dream-pop that lands somewhere between Spritualized and The Stone Roses, while ‘Howl Around’ strips everything back to a whirling piano riff.

In a way, this is a companion to Spritualized’s 2017 comeback ‘And Nothing Hurt’: both albums were made by musicians who appear to have enjoyed making life hard for themselves (in opposing ways: ‘And Nothing Hurt’ sounds like the work of countless collaborators but was in fact overseen entirely by head honcho Jason Pierce) and both display a kind of broken optimism. “You still think you’re in control”, Chapman smirks on ‘Wildfire’, a woozy violin-led track that proves he’s outlived the reductive ‘bedroom producer’ tag after all.