We Can Create
he debut full-length from long-simmering indie sensation Maps follows in the grand tradition of tastefulness embodied by Kruder & Dorfmeister’s The K&D Sessions, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and the entire catalogue of Portishead; whether that is a good or a bad thing depends entirely on the listener. That’s not to say that any of those albums—or, to be sure, We Can Create—are anything less than artistically meritorious, but they certainly can be grating to an audience either unprepared or unreceptive to their bourgeois musical charms.
This doesn’t disqualify Maps from making some genuinely beautiful music, of course. After all, it’s easy to dismiss music of this particular level of dynamism as so much idle scene-setting for confidently triumphant advertisements for toothpaste or car rental agencies or whatever. But to do so to We Can Create would mean overlooking its eleven fully-realized, wholly-self-justifying songs. This is a band, after all, which spent two years fending off major-label offers while stoking their fans’ fires with the release of a few intermittent singles; this is clearly a band with a good grasp on the value of a single track, a value which practically suffuses We Can Create. These are actual, no-foolin’ songs with choruses and peaks and valleys and devastating little arrangements tucked away in their crevices.
The problem, as it were, is that Maps seem to have applied their sensibilities for songcraft to the task of making an album’s worth of Coldplay tunes; We Can Create would be exponentially more defensible if it ever attempted to address the world in anything other than the most wistfully doe-eyed tones. Across the board, the band’s most prominent moments of promise come from the textural details that make up their songs: the wheezing, slightly out-of-tune synths anchoring “You Don’t Know Her Name,” the gulf of difference between the vocal takes laid atop each other on “Lost My Soul,” the huge pockets of negative space in the echoed drums of “It Will Find You,” and so on—if you’re into picking apart sounds, We Can Create will certainly leave you spoiled for choices.
Sadly, though, these fastidiously-imposed touches are rarely employed for any reason beyond simple sensory effect; the songs themselves turn and swell when the emotional—as opposed to the musical—content demands it. (This is perhaps due to Maps’ origins as a one-man bedroom band named James Chapman who, emboldened by the reception of those aforementioned initial singles, recruited an actual band in order to play live shows. It’s not hard to imagine the balance of a song as delicately swoonsome as “Lost My Soul” being upended by a pair of hands hired via a flyer.)
We Can Create isn’t devoid of value; if nothing else, it’s a searing emphatic statement about Chapman’s gift for conceiving and arranging a song’s sonic textures, and even a casual encounter with his debut album portends an extravagantly promising future. It’s just unfortunate that Chapman hasn’t managed to come up with a record showcasing his strengths, only one where he’s able to demonstrate them in practically incidental fashion. Hopefully he exercises better discretion in the future; it’d be a shame for a musician with the potential to be his generation’s Geoff Barrow turn out to be the next iteration of Jacknife Lee.
Reviewed by: James Cobo
Reviewed on: 2007-07-09