One of the albums of the year so far is undoubtedly Parquet Courts’ Sunbathing Animal, a work by a band that readily acknowledges one of their chief influences – Stephen Malkmus – and in particular his American slacker rock outfit Pavement.
Manchester’s Mazes introduced themselves to the world in 2011 two years after their formation upon the release of A Thousand Heys, a well received effort bearing all the hallmarks of the ‘90s American indie rock that had also defined Pavement. The trio headed by Jack Cooper have since toured with both Parquet Courts and Malkmus, and throw in the Courts’ producer Jonathan Schenke for their latest effort and you have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to sound like, right?
Well, partly right. The band may have spent a week in New York with Schenke and have all these connections in place with their peers but there’s a less abrasive, less punky texture to the trio’s sound, as 2013’s excellent Ores And Minerals showed. According to Cooper, last years’ effort had been largely constructed around loops and riffs and was “influenced by everything”; the opening track from that collection, Bodies, was a lengthy jam, fuzzy guitars blending with a monotonous, motorik beat for an epic cut. A further mini album/EP/album proper – the band themselves struggle to agree on this – Better Ghosts (laughably named after bassist Conan Roberts’ description of the more scary ghouls in Ghostbusters 2 compared to the original film) popped up at the end of the year as well, such is their prolificacy.
Wooden Aquarium’s beginnings are similarly awesome, the one-two punch of Astigmatism and Salford mine those brilliant fuzzy guitar lines at an irresistible pace, alongside Cooper’s vocals and Neil Robinson’s frantic, relentless drumming. Salford is basically a continuation of Astigmatism, and the female sung “I have hidden layers” could be referring to the ‘piece’ itself such is the way the two dovetail together, overall sounding something like Television.
It Is What It Is follows and, like every track on the album, sits around the three minute mark, with Cooper’s vocals sounding eerily like The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, another firm offering revealing itself as those brilliant, shimmering guitars drive proceedings again. Explode Into Colo(u)rs covers off both the UK and US markets in its title before an eerily twanging guitar line blends with constant ticking percussion and simple drum pattern for a slower, engaging effort. Vapour then slows things down to a crawl but is largely forgettable until an anthemic chorus that’s over all too soon, before RIPP then creates a soundscape reminiscent of The Stone Roses before touches of guitar effects marry with a reedy guitar line, persistent drumming and muttered prayer-like speech.
Letters Between U And V returns to the brilliant, upbeat formula that sees mesmerising verses being topped off with more excellent, fuzzy guitar passages set to an incessant beat. Mineral Springs continues in the same vein, a sunnier, harmonious vocal disposition lifting the mood to a dreamy place. Stamford Hill is another up tempo gem, its subtle organ backed chorus and poppy vocals creating a contrast against the ever present guitar melodies. The album concludes with the pairing of Universal Me, a slower effort that namechecks Manchester (not for the first time), and The Third Ridge, which trudges along with Cooper’s vocals doing all the work until embarking on an acoustic plucked outro.
Mazes have established many ties with the seaside city of Brighton, where FatCat’s HQ is, and they return to the coast for the conclusion of their current tour having already played there last week with Malkmus; it’s all the result of being part of a ‘micro-scene’ that has seen them outlast and outgrow many of their fellow ‘scenesters’. With Cooper also indulging in solo work – he recorded a whole album in a day once – and another project with Veronica Falls’ James Hoare that sees an imminent release under the Ultimate Painting moniker, it’s a busy time for Mazes frontman. And it would appear that every step he takes is another step in the right direction; his is a remarkable talent worthy of wider recognition.