Typical: you wait years for a British four-piece in thrall to early-90s US alt-rock, and then two come along at once. Hot on the heels of Yuck come Mazes, a London band who manage to sound like Pavement or Guided By Voices even in their song titles: there's one here called Summer Hits Or J+J Don't Like – it might have been easier just to call the album I Love Malkmus. There's none of the narcotised throb of Yuck here: Mazes play with real vim, and aren't inclined to let their songs loiter unnecessarily.
Not to be confused with the 1900s’ side project from Chicago, London’s Mazes incorporate the brash swiftness of ‘70s punk, the garagey jangle pop melodies of ‘80s college rock, and the sly, slacker attitude of ‘90s indie rock in their music. However, the trick is that they manage to do so without sounding overly derivative. There are definite similarities to the often compared bands Pavement and the Buzzcocks, but Mazes have such an all-encompassing style that they're hard to pigeonhole.
Is it a minor cosmic retribution that the bands doing the best job of recreating American indie rock of the 1990s are coming from the UK? Leading the way this year is Yuck, with their self-titled LP; now emerging from the DIY scene that spawned the like-minded Male Bonding, Pens, and Spectrals, London-via-Manchester quartet Mazes make a commendable entry into that realm with their FatCat debut, A Thousand Heys. Lacking the comprehensive guitar sprawl of Yuck or the arty abrasiveness of Male Bonding, Mazes instead embody the shambling approach to verse-chorus songwriting found in Pavement acolytes BOAT. It's the sort of stuff dubbed "slacker" because it gives the impression that its consciously chosen smart-dumb persona could be overcome with effort.
These days, when any spotty teenager can make a pretty decent recording with little more than a laptop, a microphone and an unhealthy disdain for their parents, there’s something a little pretentious about the whole lo-fi, DIY-rock sound. You can almost picture the conversation with the A&R guy: “Your shit’s cool, guys, but it’d sound so much more rock ‘n’ roll if we recorded it with a plastic cup and a piece of string!!”. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about.
The debut album from Britain’s Mazes, A Thousand Heys, was likely one of the year’s most anticipated records to come out, just judging from the buzz in the blogosphere. The band’s output of seven-inches, split singles and cassettes all seemed to hint that Mazes could be something worth talking about. However, it turns out that A Thousand Heys has already been picked apart to death upon its release by web writers, and the general consensus among these reviewers, aside from a handful that appeared to generally like it, is that the album is pretty much just merely OK.
There’s a comfortable, broken-in feeling to Mazes’ full-length debut, A Thousand Heys. It fits snugly about the ears the way a well-worn shoe fits around your foot, acting like a digest of primal indie rock, a throwback to 1990s left-of-the-dial: hook-laden pop rock adorned with the echoes of Pavement and smudges of Sebedoh. The band itself cops to using some of its favorite old-school indie bands as starting points (“Most of our songs start off being called ‘The Clean Song’ or ‘Steve Shelley Song.’ Do most bands do that?” singer Jack Cooper mused in a recent piece on This Is Fake DIY).
Mazes stay true to its name on their latest effort, A Thousand Heys. Upon listening, you may feel a tad confused at the overall sound. On the one hand, it’s a raw production, packaged with lackadaisical lyrics and easy pop-punk melodies. Yet underneath it all, there are some delicate and delightful moments that run in from left field.
An album for long summer nights, by a band relishing all that they have right now. Mischa Pearlman 2011 After a wait that feels like years, the English sun is finally beginning to emerge for the first time in 2011. While it’s bound not to last, the arrival of Mazes’ debut album at this spring awakening further magnifies that impending sense of summer insouciance brought on by the bright blue skies.