Since his 2006 debut, The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager, Sam Duckworth (aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.) expanded the ever-evolving definition of emo with a fusion-minded approach that pulled electro and orchestral pop flourishes as well as a folk-influenced introspection into the mix. With his fourth studio album, Maps, he further expands the palette to take a harder-edged approach, making room for heavier guitar riffs, crashing percussion, and a more urgent attitude among the electronic blips, frothy choruses, and nice-guy musings. The result gives a quirky Brit-pop vibe that veers very close to Blur territory, which -- while enjoyable -- is a little too on the nose and mostly detours from the sound that built his fan base. There are a couple of exceptions with the one-two punch of "Call of Duty" and "The Joy of Stress," but even that yields mixed results: with mischievous synth stabs, a fluid bass groove, and lyrics that have real life implications beyond the track's video game theme ("How could you do this to me when you know that I work so hard?"), "Duty" has the right ingredients for longtime listeners but comes and goes without building any momentum; conversely, the ballad "Stress" patiently, gradually layers piano with strings, beats, handclaps, and acoustic guitar against Maps' most affecting storytelling ("If this is the land of the wild and free, then let me believe"). The rest of the album offers spirited, electronic-tinged indie rock ("The Real McCoy," "Daylight Robbery," "The Long and Short of It All") with some gentler excursions ("Snap," "Offline Maps") that when heard as a whole is best suited for a road trip or as the backdrop of some other activity. The issues are that Maps' sequencing generally lumps together its tracks by similar sound, leaving peaks and valleys that on their own challenge the listener's attention span, and lyrically the album seems to be in the same place where GC.WC.F began, like a college kid high on ideals and low on maturity who just discovered Amnesty International (or more appropriately in 2012, the Occupy movement, of which he's a strong proponent). With the track order shuffled, Maps is more engaging already; as to the songwriting, Duckworth's earnest delivery and idealistic tone don't play well together, but they do work apart. That is, simple lines like "You're the same as before, so hard to ignore" would carry more weight if delivered with punk vitriol, just as his impassioned vocals would be more effective as a vehicle for lyrics that show he's grown over the past six years. In the end, Maps is an interesting title choice -- GC.WC.F is all over it, on the right track but ultimately still looking for direction.
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AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie