Named after the term for a typically unwelcome change of fortune, UK producer James Chapman’s third studio effort under the guise of Maps, Vicissitude, doesn’t exactly shy away from revelling in doom and gloom.
Resembling a cross between a self-hypnosis tape and a soundtrack to an eerie early 80s sci-fi flick, the follow-up to 2009’s Turning The Mind is underpinned by a sense of foreboding which suggests that the twenty-something is approaching something of an early mid-life crisis.
At first the ominous reflections on growing older and uncertain futures are mesmerising. Opener “A.M.A.” combines the ethereal synth-pop of early 90s comedown specialists The Beloved with the soaring post-rock melodies of Sigur Ros. “Built To Live” shows that Hurts now have some fierce competition when it comes to channelling the stadium synth-rock prime of Depeche Mode. Elsewhere, “You Will Find A Way” combines Chapman’s whispered melancholic tones with a gorgeously dreamy backdrop of spacey synths and church organs.
However, on the middle-section of Vicissitude, which is more in keeping with the shoegazey murmurs of Maps’ 2007 debut We Can Create, Chapman sadly allows his self-indulgent streak to get the better of him. “Nicholas” is little more than a three-note drone extended to six torturously long minutes; the title track is a similarly meandering affair which fails to build on its early break-beat promise; and the proggy electronica of “This Summer” and “Insignificant Others” suggest Chapman simply ran out of ideas towards the end of recording.
Closer “Adjusted To The Darkness,” a beautifully hushed lullaby which builds up to a gloriously cinematic crescendo, just about pulls the record back from its navel-gazing nadir. But overall, Vicissitude lacks both the creative spark and element of surprise that earned Maps’ debut a Mercury Prize nomination.