Song Of The Day 21: Maps – Die Happy, Die Smiling

Regular readers will be well aware of my love affair with all things Maps. It would be fair to say that I ensured that nobody was in any doubt about how great the recent album ‘Turning The Mind’ is or when it was available to purchase. It’s fair to say that it didn’t exactly set the chart alight, but I’d hope it’s done well enough to keep James Chapman making splendid music under the Maps moniker for some time to come.

Doing my usual Sunday perusal of newly released downloads, I stumbled across this single release, despite having no idea that it was actually coming out. Some of the obligatory remixes are of little interest to most, but I would recommend seeking out the remix by A Place To Bury Strangers which recasts it as a speedy rock track. It’s surprisingly successful.

Still, none of these remixes can eclipse the majesty of the original track which is one of my favourites on what is a wonderfully strong album. I can’t imagine anyone reading this now has still not heard some music by Maps, but it certainly does no harm to remind people of these great tunes from time to time. You can YouTube below, purchase downloads here or listen to the album here. (Old FUTUREMUSIC feature here)

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2009 – The Spiffing List

A little late, I know, but it would probably be more accurate if I waited until around March time, by which point I might have fully absorbed the 2009 albums I have. Can’t imagine there’d be much interest by then though, so here it is. As with last year, this is a Top 20 list of albums I’ve thoroughly enjoyed across 2009. I make no apologies for excluding certain albums that have appeared near the top of many media lists and am confident that you’ll simply look at the list as a curiosity that might make you explore one or two titles that you’ve either not heard or not spent long with. As with the 40 From The Noughties list, I fully expect many of you to heartily disagree with this list but all I’m saying is that these are my top 20 of the last year as things stand now. It may well change in time and, if you look at the 2009 albums in the aforementioned 40, you’ll see that some of them have already changed positions since I put that list together. Anyhoo, let’s get on with it, shall we?

20. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days / Light Years

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Not sure how it ended up falling so low in the end. Still a wonderful album, it just didn’t have quite the staying power I thought it might have had.

19. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – s/t

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Great fun, from start to finish. Reminds me of when the NME was published on tatty grey bog roll.

18. Atlas Sound – Logos

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I was bit late to the party on this one, but was glad I finally made it. Quirky washes of sound. A bit like Animal Collective with more tunes.

17. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

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They don’t make bad records. Every one of them is a gem. This was another quietly brilliant record.

16. Annie – Don’t Stop

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The power pop album of the year. Xenomania in full flow and, in the absence of new Girls Aloud, it does the job just fine.

15. M. Ward – Hold Time

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Coffee shops and Apple may love him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. A wonderful sleeper of an album. His entire back catalogue is great and don’t forget to check out ‘Monsters Of Folk’ which just missed out on this list.

14. Magnolia Electric Co – Josephine

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One of the first albums I reviewed for Clash and it’s a good ‘un. Jason Molina with his finest album in some time. He also released ‘Molina and Johnson’ this year which is almost as good and would have been No.22 had this list gone beyond a top 20. Well worth listening to both. 

13. Pet Shop Boys – Yes

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Their best in some time. ‘Pandemonium’ is ridiculously over the top, but in that oh-so-forgivable PSB way. A delight from start to finish and there’s a decent track-by-track commentary on Spotify for free too.

12. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

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A great overall sound to this one. Hadn’t really bothered with them up until this, but quickly retraced my footsteps and put that right. ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘While You Wait For The Others’ were classic singles. Not on Spotify, but click the picture for the latter of those two singles on VerTube.

11. Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North

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The first of the Noughty 40 to feature in this list also. A great record, still worthy of plenty of your time. It needs a few listens, but if it clicks, it’ll stay with you. 

10. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers

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The most fun you can have with a Manics album in some time. Great packaging, great songs, great performances. Check out the Saint Etienne re-tooling of ‘Jackie Collins’ too. In the aforementioned 40 also.

09. Graham Coxon – The Spinning Top

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Another Noughty 40 album and one that splits opinion. I think his voice sounds charming on this record and I would argue that it’s his best by some distance. Beautiful at times. 

08. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter

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An album which I loved at the start, lost interest in for a bit but have since returned to at some great length and have realised just how spiffing it really is. Should have been in the big list and is probably his second best album to date.

07. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

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One of those albums that you pootle along listening to every so often without realising how much you’re enjoying it. When it came to thinking about this list, I returned to it and it all clicked into place. This one has staying power, methinks.

06. MapsTurning The Mind

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I think I may have said enough about this one already. It’s in the big 40, and my review described it as ‘bordering on genius’. Job done.   

05. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

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Ok, so it’s no ‘Lost Souls’ but then what is? To be fair, they sound like two different bands. This is the New Order phase and it’s bloody good. CD sounds like shite though. Treat yourself to the deluxe vinyl edition. Made #20 in the 40.

04. Trashcan Sinatras  – In The Music

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Still not Spotify-able but bloody lovely nonetheless. Gentle, well-crafted and beautifully sung. Just like every other Trashcans record. A welcome return and a great album. Highly placed in the 40 too. 

03. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

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There are those who’ll bang on about how this is a 2008 album because they self-released it at the end of that year, but the world only really heard it in 2009 and it was only released over here in 09, so I’m having it. A quirky cross between gentle harmonies and Tom Waits honking. Splendid stuff and a Noughties classic also. 

02. The xx – xx

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Even a couple of months ago, I had no idea how high up the list this one would finish. It crow barred its way in to the Noughty 40 at the last minute and continued to impress all through December, resulting in this placement. It’s hard to define, but I had a go here.

01. Lily AllenIt’s Not Me, It’s You

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Justifiably highly placed in the big list and the top of this one, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ is the best pop album I’ve heard in years. The lyrics are brilliant and musically it gets every single call just right. I have never tired of it since the day I first played it. There’s a bargainous CD/DVD edition available right now for not all that much cash and I can’t recommend it enough. 

07. Maps – We Can Create

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We had just moved house and it had taken the best part of two weeks to get the internet up and running again. After an hour or so spent attempting to convince myself that it was actually possible to somehow catch up on fourteen days worth of missed internet access, I finally gave up and pootled over to the Norman Records website. This particular online record shop had slowly been winning me over, having first visited when hunting for an out of print Magnolia Electric Co release. Packed with quirky reviews, curious items and a tremendous supply of vinyl, the Norm site has become increasingly important to me in recent years as a result of all of my local independent stores dying. It is where a sizeable chunk of my new music is now purchased from now – although that may change with the abolition of the invaluable reserve option – but back in April 2007 I was just starting to get the bug.

07 Maps

As I sat there, browsing new music in the hope of taking my mind off the still unfiled stuff everywhere around me,  I noticed that Norm were banging on about a new album that they’d been given some upfront copies of that they thought was pretty bloody good. It didn’t take much longer for the hyperbole to kick in and next thing I knew I was putting together a small order on their site. That Saturday, ‘We Can Create’ by Maps turned up and I now can’t imagine what my record collection was like before that crucial day. (Ok, that’s yet more hyperbole – without that album, and its subsequent impact, there’d be a few less CDs in the racks and a small gap along the vinyl shelves)

I became more than a little obsessed with this record. The CD was played over and over, for weeks on end. When the novelty of that wore off, I purchased the double 10” vinyl edition and proceeded to do much that same with that. I even found myself, some months later, winning an auction on eBay for an unmastered, slightly different version of the album just to hear those minor differences and pore over what might have been. ‘We Can Create’ was the first album I’d been truly geeky over in the best part of ten years, but I loved every second. I’ve talked, at great length, about the music on this album in the past so I’m hoping the irrepressible enthusiasm is enough to get you to listen if you haven’t previously done so. But, having just said that, I should conclude by saying a few things about this remarkable, beautiful and hugely unassuming record.

The almost whispery washes of vocal sound throughout this album make it perfect for late night journeys or contemplative hours sat by a rain-soaked window but the euphoric synths and expertly manipulated electronic patterns can soundtrack those lost hours equally effectively. It’s been called a 21st century answer to shoegaze and compared to aspects of Spiritualized’s classic, ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’, but I genuinely haven’t heard another album like it. It’s infectious, it’s charming and it’s great from start to finish. If you have somehow ignored my recommendations up to this point, either do something about it now or find somewhere else to receive your mildly interesting musical commentary.

22. Maps – Turning The Mind

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I remember getting back to the house one evening late in July to find a jiffy bag in amongst the post, in which I found the promo for this particular album. I was due to review it for Clash but it meant rather more than that. The debut album by Maps is a true favourite of mine (of which more at some point soon) and so to have the follow up more than two months before it would appear in the shops was a reason for celebration. It went straight into thee CD player and, having adjusted the volume to suitably radiator-rattling proportions, I sat back in the reasonably comfy chair by the stereo setup and let it do its work.

22 Maps

I’ll admit now that the first few listens, while satisfying, were not quite as joyous as I’d imagined. It was different to the debut. It sounded bigger than the humble origins of that first record and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. However, as I mentioned earlier, I had one of my most eagerly anticipated records of the year two months before I otherwise might have done so I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to simply keep playing it because I could. It came on holiday with us, soundtracked the long journey and a few warm evenings sat with a good book and a warm beer. It was everywhere for a week or two and the next time I consciously thought about my actual opinion of it – about 24 hours before my deadline – I realised just how addicted to it I had become. And rightly so. It’s a triumph and forgive me if, terrible though this is, I quote myself for the next paragraph.

Tracks like ‘Let Go Of The Fear’ and ‘Love Will Come’ are the most upbeat Maps material to date. James Chapman’s increasing musical dexterity ensures a heavy wash of sound with twinkling synths, euphoric loops and the uncanny ability to build and build a track to an ecstatic point of air-punching triumph. Best listened to from start to finish, ‘Turning The Mind’ is both the thinking-man’s pop album of the year and the perfect soundtrack to the witching hour. Bordering on genius.

I stand by every word. I remember being amazed that the phrase ‘bordering on genius’ wasn’t removed before it went to print. Such a bold statement is not often looked on kindly by reviews editors and the accompanying 9/10 rating did put this one up on a pedestal. Amusingly, it didn’t figure in their enormous end of year list but I won’t let it bother me if you don’t.

Futuremusic – Day 5

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How is an artist that I’ve been banging on about for the best part of two years getting featured in FUTUREMUSIC? Firstly, there’s a quite staggeringly wonderful new album just around the corner and secondly, James Chapman, he who is Maps, has maintained a pretty thorough internet presence during the recording of the new record, engaging listeners in new and really rather splendid ways.

For the uninitiated, and there really is no excuse, Maps’ debut album, ‘We Can Create’, was one of the highlights of 2007 combining euphoric electronica with heartfelt and slightly-whispered anti-vocals; less sung, more discreetly conveyed as if trying not to wake a sleeping child in the next room. Despite being the result of one man piddling about with technology in his Northamptonshire bedroom, the music sounds absolutely huge. Although hints of other whispery chillout types such as Spiritualized and early Mercury Rev pop through at times, it still feels like nothing else you’ve ever heard. A record guaranteed to put a smile on your face and one that I know inside out, an ever rarer accolade in these days of such easy access to so much music.

maps turning the mind

The new album, ‘Turning The Mind’, is out on September 28th and features everything that made the first record great only a wee bit larger and with a dollop more ambition. Plus, there’s a few faster ones, though not quite in the mould of recent single, ‘Let Go Of The Fear’, which sounds great in the midst of all of the other wonderful tracks but is hardly representative of what to expect. A far clearer idea can be gained by listening to new single, ‘I Dream Of Crystal’ on the Myspace page. The best, however, is still to come. Album tracks like ‘Die Happy, Die Smiling’, ‘Love Will Come’ and ‘Papercuts’ are some of the most naggingly insistent things he’s ever done and, to paraphrase petite Australian pop-monger Minogue, I can’t get them out of my head. I won’t bang on about the record too much as I know how annoying it is to be told something’s amazing when you can’t actually hear it yet, but suffice to say that the 9 I gave it for my review was entirely deserved. Will keep you up to date with new tracks appearing on assorted Maps pages over the coming weeks.

In the run up to this album’s release, James has provided loyal fans with some utterly bizarre but thoroughly charming video diaries through the medium of Ver Tube. They’re all still available here. I don’t think there’s much point attempting to pretend that he is entirely without chemical assistance for most of his appearances in those clips. Even weirder – no, seriously – is the latest video update which has instead appeared on the Myspace page, including a mildly blinged-up James miming to Eminem. While I’m well aware that this isn’t quite the same as some of the internet based promotion some of the other acts featured this week have undertaken, the stark honesty and genuine love which James seems to offer up to his fans is all too rare these days. You don’t get the impression that this bloke could ever really be part of a corporate machine (even though he pretty much is.) He keeps the musical experience personal. This is something he’s developed over on the MapsMusic site, from which you can download his regular series of mixtapes bafflingly entitled ‘The Rules Of Baseball’. Largely consisting of stuff you’ve never heard of, these mixes offer a reasonable clear idea of how James Chapman likes his music and also gives some pointers as to how the Maps sound is what it is. All free, all good fun and all rather more lovely than incessant corporate emails, texts and facebook updates reminding you that some mediocre chump has a new album out.

Aren’t Waterstone’s points great?

Where to start? Having spent a week trolling around the South East of England, I have returned with copious new records and a sizeable pile of books. The Great British Holiday – bugger all use if you’re after a tan but pretty reliable for enhancing your CD collection. I’ll start where it ended, which was the purchase of Simon Goddard‘s hugely enjoyable masterwork on Morrissey, entitled ‘Mozipedia‘. Priced at £25, but easily found online for £14.99 delivered, it’s a gargantuan study of all things Moz, with entries for every song he’s been involved with, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Smiths. There are also numerous cultural entries to offer a fuller picture, something Goddard is keen to emphasise in his introduction, imploring readers to draw their own conclusions about Morrissey by piecing together whichever entries seem appropriate. The carefully ambiguous, not to mention beautifully written, overview of Moz with which Goddard opens proceedings does the required job of stirring up a passion for the man and his music and ensuring that the ensuing six hundred or so pages are a delight to dip into on numerous occasions. Highly recommended.*

Speaking of Morrissey, the infamous 1992 NME vs Moz race row was brought back to the public domain this week as a result of some pretty heated debate on the really rather splendid Andrew Collins‘ site. It all came about due to some chronically mediocre reporting in The Guardian about offensive comedians which took as its centrepiece Richard Herring‘s new show, ‘Hitler Moustache’. Whatever your take on the imagery used to promote the show, or indeed some of the material contained within, it would surely be difficult to conclude that Herring is anything even bordering on racist. You’d think. Not if you’re Brian Logan, critic for said newspaper, who had a pretty good go at trying to paint him as a racist, or at least somebody with a great deal of sympathy for racists. Andrew Collins, with whom Herring records an often mildly amusing podcast each week, naturally opted to defend his comedy chum via his blog. As part of the ensuing debate in the comments section, a couple of readers drew parallels with Andrew’s involvement in the NME cover story about Moz, Madstock and the Union Flag (Covered in detail in the aforementioned ‘Mozipedia’. ) This, in turn, led to Andrew posting an additional article on his blog in which he attempted clarify why the two events had little in common. This appears to have simply stirred up emotions further and it has since been removed. Instead, Andrew opted to wade in on a related discussion on the Morrissey Solo Forums, where he encountered both ends of the scale: the intelligent, articulate and thoroughly knowledgeable Moz fans and those for whom Mozipedia will function as little more than a door stop. Still, all very entertaining reading and worth an hour of your time, if you’re willing.

In other internet confusion this week, Live Here Now, the company responsible for doing immediate live recordings at gigs continued to show why they’re not really deserving of anybody’s money. A quick pootle round the web will reveal exactly how many times they’ve delayed issuing recordings well beyond the date stated in the past and so it has proved with Blur’s Hyde Park gigs. I’ve had a negative experience with this lot in the past also, opting for Richard Hawley‘s ‘Live At The Devil’s Arse’ concert CD, which arrived many weeks after the stated date. The Blur gigs were to be available for download a week after they had happened and the CDs would follow a week later. Now, even when I ordered, I was pretty certain that this wouldn’t be the case and simply sat back and waited for them to be crap. They didn’t disappoint. If you ordered the CDs, you were promised the downloads for free, as part of the deal. Those downloads were finally available this Wednesday, July 29th. As I’m sure you can spot, this is not a week after July 2nd and 3rd. Still, at least the downloads were here and grumbling can cease, eh? Well, no, actually. When the shop site first went live, it offered the recordings as CDs or ‘High Quality 320kbps’ mp3s. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, those buying the CDs would also receive the downloads free of charge. However, upon making the downloads available to those who had preordered this week, it became clear that the downloads were only 160kbps mp3s, hardly sufficient quality for a product that is being offered up professionally in 2009. As you might expect, numerous Blur fans opted to complain about this poorly encoded product and were offered the following explanation: “We do apologise for the wording of the download quality on the website and are sorry if this has caused confusion, however as per our help section as linked below the bundled/CD purchases of the shows will have received the 160kbps version of the download.” Fair enough. Except it’s not. This information was only added to the site in the last week or so and thus it is not an excuse for why the downloads are substandard. A quick search of Google, using the cache option, yesterday unveiled the original version of the help page, which simply referred to 320kbps mp3s. Frankly, if you’re going to be utter shit, be utter shit, but to then lie about it and twist the facts is pretty bloody pathetic. I’ll be glad to finally get my CDs whenever they actually emerge, but I won’t be using this bunch of unreliable, untrustworthy cretins again.

Having mentioned the acquisition of numerous records above, I feel like I should offer some additional comment, but there’s far too much to talk about in one go. Suffice to say, a wonderful time was had in Brighton, particularly in Resident Records – as good a record shop as I’ve been in since my beloved Reveal Records died some 18 months or so ago – but not to take anything away from Rounder, Wax Factor or Ape. A special mention the glorious, and rather charmingly named, The Record Shop in Amersham, at which I stopped en route, where I had an enjoyable compilation about Honest Jon’s compilations as I purchased ‘Marvellous Boy – Calypso From West Africa’ and reduced copies of two of the ‘London Is The Place For Me’ series. Something I don’t think I’m ever likely to get in my local branch of HMV. The inevitable trip to London was conducted and Rough Trade East did its best to lure me in many musical directions, with not inconsiderable success. Berwick Street was rather disappointing, with only Sounds Of The Universe (just off Berwick Street on Broadwick Street) tempting me to open my wallet. Still, plenty of good stuff was found and will be mentioned on here as I get my ears around it over the next few days. Weirdly, the album of the holiday was Maps‘ new one, ‘Turning The Mind’, which won’t be released until September 28th, but which I spent plenty of time with in order to write a review in the next day or two. It really is as good as you might have hoped. I’ll endeavour to say a bit more soon.

Finally, keep an eye on the ‘Special Purchase’ section in your nearest HMV for the next week or two, as some decent stuff has started to appear of late. The Portsmouth branch provided me with four of the ‘Talcum Soul’ series at £2 each, while the Southampton store had the best bargain, with a copy of Lewis Taylor‘s beautiful ‘The Lost Album’ also priced at only £2. Have a listen to that rather wonderful record here.

I Do Like The Man That He, er, Am

Amazingly, the not-especially-serious last post did attract further dodgy Googlers. How quaint!

Anyhoo, just a quick one to draw your attention to a fabulous bit of news about a release coming up in August. Pete Molinari – you remember, I was banging on about him loads a little over a year ago after being spellbound by his support set for Richard Hawley – is releasing a new covers EP, ‘Today, Tomorrow and Forever’, on which you will be able to find his version of ‘Satisfied Mind’. A great song as it is, but his version is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Here is where you can pre-order it now.

Here’s an audience-recorded video of him doing it live. Majestic! (Sadly not complete)

In other tremendous news, James Chapman continues to upload new tracks from his next album as Maps on his MySpace. Have a listen to the latest one here.

One last thing. A new Charlotte Hatherley single has appeared on YouTube. Have a watch/listen below: