Go Solo is available via:
RELEASED: 31st March 2014.
PRODUCED AND MIXED BY: Chris Cookson
© & ℗ 2014 Mapstone
Having recently been featured on BBC Radio Shropshire, it seems that Go Solo is impressing itself on a lot of minds (with a patented blend of homely electronics and efficacious vocals). Mapstone may be fresh out of the box, yet purvey music that does what good music should: comfort the soul; warm the heart; compel the mind- and remain long in your thoughts.
IT is not often that I get to witness a brand-new act making their very first steps.
A lot of times, a featured act or artist will already have a fair few songs online- or else have established themselves to a certain extent. Many new musicians are fearful that unless they have a wide-ranging campaign and portfolio available, critical and music-loving ears will look elsewhere. It is understandable that there would be reticence and anxiety (in this respect); but being someone very much in the fledgling era of my own music career, I am always looking out for acts fresh from the womb- those putting their first moves onto tape. It is great to have selection of fully fledged and well-rounded tracks, but when you come across songs that are in the ‘demo’ stage; it allows you to envisage where the song may go; what touches and additions will be made- and what the final version will sound like. It takes a lot of confidence, bravery and openness for an act to put these kind of tracks out in the ether. When looking at Mapstone, I have cause to believe that we will be hearing a lot more from them over the next few years. Chris Cookson is the sole voice and author behind the act; a pioneer whom mixes and produces the tracks (as well contributes all the various elements). Cookson’s act is an Alt-Pop outfit based out of the Welsh Hills. Mixing large vocal harmonies with electronic beats, they provide a terrific blend of etherealness and power; a striking blend of power and composure- something you can not say about many acts. Having reviewed Second Hand Poet (Surrey-based artist Jamie Tipson), I was taken aback by the intimacy and warmth of his sound. Recording tracks out of his bedroom, he is one of a small number of acts taking D.I.Y. music to new places; negating the lure of the shiny studio- and letting the listener into their own four walls. A lot of music comes across as sterile, impersonal and overproduced, so it is always great to come across sounds that touch you with their genuineness. That is not to say that homemade and D.I.Y. music is not impressive- far from it. You do not need huge guitars and layers of noise to encapsulate the listener; if you have a solid and original projection to begin with, then you will be sure to win many hearts- as Mapstone surely will.
Being a fresh conception, it is hard to compare the outfit to any new act- or any existing artist. If you appreciate the importance of warmth and closeness, then you should definitely investigate this act. For those that like their music tender, earnest and honest, then you cannot go far wrong. As well as displaying a lot of soul and softness, you cannot ignore the vibrancy and urgency of the sounds provided. If you are more familiar with Indie Rock or Dance say, then I would advise you investigate Mapstone; as not only does the music provide ample excitement and passion- but I am sure that future singles and releases will see Cookson expanding and broadening his palette.
The fledgling moments of Go Solo are composed of crackling and triablistic electronic percussive beats; sparring with hand-clap interjections, it is a dream-like and evocative musical Morse Code- a vibrant and atmospheric opening gambit. The teasing and bubbling sounds put me in mind of Present Tense-era Wild Beasts, as well as latter-day Radiohead- there is a pleasing mix of austere (but exciting) percussion and sighing electronic haze. When Cookson comes to the mic., his voice is soft but imploring; painting romance-filled words, he is in a daze (“Tonight we lie alone“). Being the arbiter of the song (and the sole voice), Cookson puts his emotions and thoughts on the line; with no input or disturbance from anyone else, the lyrics come across as deeply personal and relevant- yet those which can be interpreted by anyone. When singing “The sun is crying out”, the vocals layer and augment; you feel your hairs virtually stand on end- and become encompassed in the delirious weightlessness of the moment. As much as I have mentioned other acts (as comparisons), what comes through is a strong personality with a crystalline and dedicated vision. Embers of Electronic acts come through, but I am hard-pressed to compare Mapstone with any other artist- making the song feel organic, singular and stronger. Visions percolate and entwine in my brain; you can almost picture Cookson singing by a fireside- lost in his own thoughts and awash with fond remembrance. Any angers or stresses you have are dissipated by the sweet-scented melody. I transported myself to an open space; a deserted beach bathed in shy moonlight- romanticism and seductiveness pour through. When Cookson sings the line “I don’t know if you care“, the final word is held; stretched and then modulated- a sighing and beautiful falsetto sends the word into the heavens. There are whispers of In Rainbows-King of Limbs Radiohead that work away in the background (songs such as Bloom, All You Need and Lotus Flower came to mind); the soulful (and almost gospel-like) vocal layers could well be chanted and evoked by festival-goers before too long- I can see throngs of mud-covered music-goers singing along to the track at Glastonbury in years to come. Towards the song’s mid-point, there is a cinematic interval- a chance for the listener to relax and absorb what has come before. Spectral and orbital vocals link hands with fire-crackling percussive annotations; with evocative charm, the composition gets inside your head and soothes the mind- and causes you to elicit a relieved sigh. When Cookson comes back into the fold, his words are considerably deployed: “Surrender/To the madness/I can see it/There in your eyes.” Whether referring to his girlfriend (or something fictionalised and detached), I am not sure, but you can hear the conviction and passion come through- leading me to declare that the song’s themes have their roots in personal romance. Just as you are picturing scenes of the song’s heroine; imagining what form of waltz and seduction is afoot, the infectious and choral coda is back (“I don’t know if you care“). Gorgeously delicate electronic notes are sprinkled into the track; not only offering multifarious sunlight- but adding weight and mesmeric quality into the mix. The final seconds consist of gradual decomposition; notes and vocal lines are eliminated as the song gracefully comes to land- all that remains (by the end) is that touching electronic arpeggio. Going Solo is a track that puts you in a better frame on mind; whether caught in the rain or basking in the sun, it makes you relax and reflect- and fall in love with what is on offer. The song has a mix of gallantry and postulancy; a cocktail of romantic desire and infantine abandon- you cannot but help but smile throughout. The production values are assured and professional; I did not have to strain to hear what was being sung- something that bugs me when I review quite a few other acts. Being a fan of acts like The National, Dry the River and Ray LaMontagne (without hyperbole), I can compare some of Mapstone’s qualities with these giants. Mixing U.S. flavours and home-grown inspiration, Go Solo could seamlessly blend into albums such as High Violet, Shallow Bed or Gossip in the Grain– Cookson’s voice conjugates Berninger-esque chocolate-toned reflection and Peter Liddle-style haunting falsetto. It would be transgressive to compare the song with anything out there (and would do a disservice to Cookson), but such is the quality and sense of beauty that one cannot help but to do so. Few artists and acts launch authoritative gems from the very off- so if Cookson keeps this pace and quality up, it makes for an incredibly exciting future E.P./album.
I know Mapstone’s inventor has big plans for the future, and wants to remain as busy as he can. As the lead singer of Halflight, he showed himself to be one of the most impassioned and determined creative voices on the circuit. Mapstone is a project and act in the newborn stage, yet it is clear that we will be hearing more very soon. As well as Go Solo, Shelter is also available- and is another memorable and solid track. Although the twin tracks are in the ‘demo’ stage, they point at a promising future. The production is impressive and clear, and the songs’ elements are mixed beautifully- everything is projected with clarity, decipherability and evocative atmosphere. Shelter is a warm and snug Indie-Pop number; while not instilled with the same production values and clarity as Go Solo, it still resonates hard- and hits the mark emphatically. Cookson turns provider and safe haven here; imploring his subject (with him) to stand their ground- it is a track imbued with redemptiveness, motivation and strength-against-the-current mantra. Burbling and dancing percussion beats marry alongside Cookson’s focused and emotive voice- the track’s nuances and strengths reveal themselves fully over repeated listens. Recently, Go Solo was featured on BBC Radio Shropshire– the first airplay for Mapstone. I know how much it meant to Cookson, and I am sure that BBC Radio One (and Absolute) will be spinning the likes of Go Solo and Shelter before too long. Go Solo (as well as Shelter) share common D.N.A., and hint at a clear sense of identity- an original and potent sound. Acts such as Wild Beasts, London Grammar and James Blake have demonstrated what can be achieved when you mingle stunning and evocative vocals, with direct and heartfelt electronic compositions. It is highly probable that Mapstone will be making big waves in time, as the act has struck on a rich vein of style and substance- a perfect genetic mix that resonates long in the mind. If they do make it big (which is a distinct future possibility) it will not be due to kismet or luck- it will highly deserved. I know these are the early days, but it seems that the move from London has done Cookson a lot of good- the tranquillity and serenity the Welsh Hills provide has provoked a lot of creativity and direction. I am not sure what comes next: a few more singles; an E.P.; tour dates possibly- but it will be exciting to see what is on the horizon. I for one, would love to see Mapstone perform (perhaps in some charming and familial coffee shop or bar). I shall not get ahead of myself, instead allow for some final reflection and modesty. Music is a hard and capricious business to crack, and relies as much on fortitude and talent as it does popularity. In spite of a modest online following (and the odd smattering of reviews), Mapstone will see follower numbers rise- as fresh eyes train themselves in their direction. In a turbulent political week, which has seen the venomous cockroaches of society rise to governmental prominence (voted for by the lowest of the low); music provides some loyal and indiscriminating stability; a tender touch to comfort the soul. When it comes to soothing and comforting (with plenty of force)…
FEW acts do it better.