Under the name Maps, British musician James Chapman has sculpted a trio of dramatic albums whose electro-shoegaze hybrid seems to skirmish back and forth between its organic and synthetic factions. A veteran of the Mute Records roster since his Mercury Prize-nominated 2007 debut, We Can Create, Chapman has spent over a decade transmuting influences like Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, and Ulrich Schnauss into his own pleasing concoction of atmospheric indie rock which, more often than not, trends toward pop melodicism. Following a 2016 detour that saw him pair up with similarly ethereal counterpart Polly Scattergood as the duo ondeadwaves, he returns to Maps with a renewed sense of grandeur on the lush and orchestral Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. Ambitious as he was on earlier releases, Chapman was often thought of as a bedroom pop producer, extracting a widescreen sound from small screen foundations. On this deeply collaborative set, he steps firmly onto a bigger stage, working with classical ensemble the Echo Collective and an array of guests to create his most sweeping, cinematic work to date. In keeping with the more streamlined approach of 2013's Vicissitude, Colours relies less on intricate, fussy arrangements and instead organizes its symphonic and choral partnerships into striking bursts of celestial muscle, giving much of the album an anthemic tone. It's easy to get caught up in the thrilling intensity of highlights like "Surveil" and "Just Reflecting," two massive-sounding tracks that were wisely chosen as the album's advance singles. Chapman's pop acumen remains present throughout as he reliably pairs engaging melodies with emotionally powerful themes like on the excellent "The Plans We Made." With all of the organic classical instrumentation employed here, the electronic side of Maps is significantly downplayed, lending Colours the added weight of strength in acoustic numbers, an effect that has consistently delivered emotional resonance to listeners for hundreds of years.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger