Like Anthony Gonzalez before him, James Chapman is a purveyor of sugary, buzzing, shoegaze rock—the kind of music that would rot your teeth if it had any caloric content. But Turning the Mind, Chapman’s second studio offering as Maps, takes its cues less from the poppy M83 and more from Australian trio Cut Copy, whose strain of electronica is doled out in syncopated disco basslines and feathery drum-machine beats. Still, the dance-driven turn is no less true to the junk food metaphor. Murky, cyclical, and completely self-indulgent, Turning the Mind is a trance-rock candy bar: predictable, but nonetheless useful in satisfying a guilty pleasure.
Chapman demonstrates a fair amount of dedication with regard to the repetitive, shimmering arpeggios so prevalent in rhythmic shoegaze. The title track opens slowly and breathlessly, gathering momentum as Chapman himself gains vocal footing. With voices static and soft throughout, the song hits its critical mass at its midpoint, swirling uncontrollably in a fuzz of programmed synth algorithms. Ditto “Let Go of the Fear,” where discotheque meets Depeche Mode in a thump of interlocking swirls.
Still, even on the album’s most astral pieces, there’s hesitance. “I Dream of Crystal” is appropriately glassy, rife with childlike chorales, aural splashes, and liberal cathedral sweeps. But Chapman refuses to cede to complete saturation, regularly checking the dreaminess in favor of dry vocal lines sung in stretched, half-yawned tones. Whether creative flaw or conscious production choice, the uneven clip of this and other tracks prevents Turning the Mind from achieving the spatial, bliss-ridden freedom on which shoegaze thrives. Instead, Chapman pulls the reins back one time too many.