In an era obsessed with glitchiness, dubstep, and all things lo-fi, James Chapman’s so-called “electrogaze” music is, in a word, estranged. Modern electronic music and its consumers are currently binging on anything that sounds like James Blake or SBTRKT, darkly produced R&B hybrids with which Chapman’s aged, though nonetheless polished, pre-millennial IDM shares little in common. Since Turning the Mind, his work as Maps has been condemned to dwell in the meandering purgatory of passé electronica, which is perhaps why his third full-length release, Vicissitude, arrives with such little fanfare. It’s just as well: Whether unfairly labeled or not, Chapman’s latest is a plodding morass of club-centric presets, vapid romanticism, and shoegaze clichés.
From start to finish, Vicissitude is mostly a fill-in-the-blank affair. Whether attempting to conjure angst, outrage, or wonder, Chapman’s lyrics read as if put together via Mad Libs, while beats and rhythms largely operate on cruise control, with little variation, texture, or improvisation from track to track, a devastating fault that any modern electronica album, let alone one as listless as this, would have a difficult time recovering from. This is lazy songwriting at its worst, marrying percussive loops and basslines with layers of nebulous synthwork to obscure the fact that Vicissitude has few ideas and even fewer melodies. Entering the fourth minute of the slogging “Nicholas,” no doubt a song aiming for grandiose heights but hitting none, it becomes obvious that Chapman has basically written one song and disguised it, however poorly, as 10 different tracks, resulting in a tedious listening experience.
Coupled with Chapman’s own half-whispered vocal contributions, Vicissitude fails even as inconsequential background music, its awkward, ever-present monotone and almost unnatural uniformity proving to be constant distractions. At every turn, the album serves only to reinforce the fact that Chapman isn’t only firmly, almost blindly stuck in the previous decade, but that his music’s long-overdue expiration date is the least of its problems.