Mazes - Ores & Minerals
The follow-up to the London band's 2011 debut still sounds like many of the 90s American indie bands lovingly mimicked on that album, but comes off more as a winningly idiosyncratic hybrid of their own making than an enthusiastic photocopy.
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"Bodies" — MazesVia SoundCloud
A few years ago, a micro-scene started brewing in the UK, centered on a loose collection of friendly, lo-fi-leaning rock bands. This cohort was best represented on the 2010 compilation PVI0006/IBB004, jointly released by artist-run labels Paradise Vendors and Italian Beach Babes. As that generic title implies, the scene was more about inter-band camaraderie than a specific sound-- more about sharing split releases and trading links than hiring publicists or branding themselves. So it's no shock that no movement ever came from it; in fact, a few of the bands don't even exist anymore. But others-- Male Bonding, Cold Pumas, Fair Ohs-- have gone on to make more substantial work on their own.
At the head of that surviving class sits Mazes, thanks to the leap they've taken with their second album, Ores & Minerals. Its predecessor, 2011's A Thousand Heys, was a solid take on 90s American indie, but a bit too beholden to its influences. Ores & Minerals fixes that and adds a lot more. Singer/guitarist Jack Cooper claims he wanted to make a record "that wasn't influenced by anything but influenced by everything," and his trio has achieved that seemingly paradoxical goal. You can still hear traces of other bands here, but Mazes' sound now is more an idiosyncratic hybrid than an enthusiastic photocopy.
That's perhaps due to how the trio wrote their songs this time. Many began as loops rather than melodies, resulting in immediate hooks that gradually extend into something longer-lasting. The effect is clear from the very first track, "Bodies", which morphs from a simple indie pop tune into a hypnotic twin-guitar jam. It evokes similar journeys by Television and the Feelies, not in exact sound but in feel-- that is, in the way its seven minutes of blissful music would still be effective at twice the length.
The template set by "Bodies" is furthered by the krautrocky title track and the mesmerizing "Skulking", which ramps into a crescendo of Velvet Underground-like fuzz. In between those expansive pieces lies a wealth of sonic variety. There's the slow sway of "Dan Higgs Particle", the proggy, Malkmus-esque lope of "Sucker Punched", and even an eerie piano piece called "Leominster". Mazes fuse those styles by sheer force of personality-- each tune bears their own thoughtful approach first and influences second.
It also helps that Cooper keeps the words to a minimum. Many of his lyrics on A Thousand Heys comprised long sentences spooled out in a breathless, sometimes rambling rush. But here he sticks mostly to short phrases with lots of pauses in between. The tactic gives the album a haiku-ish feel, with Cooper exploring his subjects--- relationships, divorces, aging-- in terms that are openly universal rather than limitingly specific.
There is one moment on Ores & Minerals that could be about something particular. Halfway through the title track, Cooper sings about "looking in, looking out on a scene that's distorted/ Liking things, friend it, report it/ You're contorted." Perhaps that's his take on what happened with the scene Mazes came from (something he expands upon in this interview), suggesting any attempt to summarize only distorted what it was really about. But it feels more like Cooper's moved on, and on Ores & Minerals he's more interested in contorting his own sound than worrying about anyone else's.