Release Date: Feb 12, 2013
Record label: Fat Cat
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi
While the hunt continues for a British band with guitars to get excited about, one worth several cheers is hiding in plain sight. Mazes' 2011 debut owed an audible debt to Pavement, but this second album suggests they've been listening to lots of Krautrock in the meantime. Though there are diversions in the tumbledown guitars of Sucker Punched and the shuffle of Delancey Essex, the defining sound is the four-to-the-floor drone, as on excellent opener Bodies; later on, Skulking is even better.
Their debut established Mazes' sound as an indie rock band with a fondness for power pop, but for their follow-up, the London group spread their arms open wide to invite in a wealth of influences and blossomed into a uniquely special band. Leading up to the release of Ores & Minerals, singer/guitarist Jack Cooper explained that a new appreciation for Krautrock had played a big part in the making of the album. With Can being a near-constant reference point for bands and hipsters alike, that type of statement usually foreshadows a lackluster impression of Motorik rhythms, but instead of losing track of their initial vision, Mazes carefully incorporates slight details, like one-string bends or a chugging beat without letting any single stylistic idea dominate their songs.
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.
Guitars. That’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? Whether wielding the axe like a high-calibre weapon or hunching over the fretboard in deep concentration, throwing a decent pose with a six-string is undeniably central to rock iconography. However, it’s rare to find anyone doing anything even remotely fresh with rock’s instrument of choice these days.
The world has a seemingly inexhaustible thirst for low-fi indie rock. If it sounds like the dudes in question smoke a lot of pot, don’t wash their hair much, and record exclusively on their older brother’s old eight track, then there is an audience ready to gobble that record right up. And who am I to judge? I spent a great deal of time in my 20s listening to old Pavement and Guided by Voices albums.
Having shaken up their fizzy bottle of adolescent lo-fi tunes on their debut album back in 2011, Mazes have only gone and grown up for album number two. On ‘Ores and Minerals’, they ditch the giddy sounds of their early material and adopt a broader palette. Showing off just how much they’ve learned in the last two years, ‘Jaki’ is the band bragging about their ability to grow a moustache; ‘Sucker Punched’ explores their new-found appreciation of wine; and ‘Significant Bullet’ is Mazes getting really into the news.
Manchester trio’s second set captures their key elements in full colour. Noel Gardner 2013 While still a fair distance from the shores of the oxymoronic "indie mainstream", and by no means crafting uniform, easily accessible rock nuggets, the Mazes of 2013 have certainly tidied themselves up compared to their earliest ventures three or so years ago. Debuting in 2009 with a 7” single on Sex Is Disgusting Records – an almost self-parodying name for a bedroom indie label – a flurry of similar releases followed, generally suggesting a love for winsome melody but obstinate in their lo-fi production values and general lack of preciousness.
On paper, the Manc/London trio Mazes are the archetypal UK DIY underground band. Bassist Conan Roberts runs Italian Beach Babes, a label so DIY they release stuff on cassette, while singer/guitarist Jack Cooper has his own cassette-toting indie Suffering Jukebox. They have no manager, record quickly, spontaneously and self-release, drive themselves around on tour and call their songs things like 'Painting of Tupac Shakur'.
On their 2011 debut, London-based then four-piece Mazes displayed a real knack for knocking together distorted lo-fi guitar pop ditties. Sure, ‘A Thousand Heys’ was far from ground-breaking or especially complex, and the road of influence leading back to Pavement wasn’t a particularly long nor winding one, but it was a very strong and impressive debut release, received well both critically and publicly that deservedly made the band a name for themselves. Almost two years on and the group find themselves one member down following the loss of guitarist Jarin Tabata and, with their second album, an almost unrecognisable sound.