single // Short Break Operator EP
radiate / virgin | cd rdt9 / 724354701320 | 2003
‘These songs they seem to write themselves,‘ sings James Chapman on the poignant, bittersweet ‘Glory Verse’, the towering ballad which rounds off the solitary EP from Short Break Operator and which some indie movie director really needs to snag for his next film’s soundtrack. That line, accompanied by a skittering drum pattern, organ chords and genteel guitar serves as a neat summary of how effortless, relaxed and casual the four songs on the EP feel, a distinct accomplishment for a debut release from an artist better known as Maps. The EP was released on Radiate, a subsidiary of Virgin / EMI and predates Chapman’s own Lost Space imprint, through which the first Maps singles were issued.
Chapman himself calls these ‘lo-fi’ recordings, and in contrast to the fuller, more electronic production on the Maps releases, that isn’t a totally inappropriate way of describing them. What’s more evident is a restrained, almost folksy leaning, the four songs here generally consisting of plucked guitar, subtle electronics and percussion, with vocal harmonies that evoke a pastoral sense of longing and muted euphoria. It’s the kind of chilled-out, warm music you’d expect to hear in a tent on the fringes of a festival, a guy with a guitar sat hunched over a mic at the edge of a small stage accompanied by a miniscule box of tricks.
The songs here feel like raw outpourings of uncertain emotions, the harmonies and chords suggesting something uplifting while the lyrics hint at some monumental misery, interlaced with wintery imagery and plaintive pleadings. ‘This Transmission’, with its delicate string section and lyrics suggesting unrequited love captures that delicate balancing act perfectly, while ‘Some Winter Song’ has a beguiling, wide-eyed theme with circular lyrics referring to positive feelings, the source of which Chapman – somewhere between gleefully and spitefully – doesn’t divulge to whoever the song is being delivered to. Synths shimmer like reflections on ice, giving these songs a glacial, frozen beauty.
‘Take Route / Point Odinsve’ is probably the most overtly ‘electronic’ piece here, a sparsely populated soundscape undercut by a steady pulse and melodies from guitars, synths and strings that weave and glide like a light aircraft on the thermals above the Reykjavik ice-world alluded to in the second part of the song’s title. If Biosphere’s Geir Jenssen tried to cover Dave Angel’s In-Flight Entertainment EP with an orchestra, it might sound something like this. A processed ‘peaceful‘ uttered deep in the middle of the trip feels tranquil and still, comfortably isolated.
Chapman adopted the moniker Short Break Operator during a period of wanting to escape more or less everything, finding himself gazingly longingly at holiday brochures for short-haul destinations like Iceland but thwarted by prohibitive costs. One of those brochures claimed itself to be from ‘Your No. 1 Short Break Operator’, giving rise to the alias used on this EP, while the name Maps too fits with a sense of travelling. Chapman finally got to work in Rejyavik on the We Can Create album after signing to Mute.
Thanks to James.
1. Some Winter Song
2. This Transmission
3. Take Route / Point Odinsve
4. Glory Verse
First published 2013; edited 2015.
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence