Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mazes – Mazes

Mazes – Mazes

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March 24, 2009 by Peter Ekman
Category: Albums (and EPs)

mazesNumerology never did you any favors, safe to say, but dig this big crux: Mazes spin off from The 1900s, the psychish Chicago poppers formed in 2004 and last seen orbiting the blogosphere. (Not 1990s, mind you, those rakish Scotsmen [2006] with Yummy Fur wafting through their veins.) The 1900s? Seven-piece. Mazes? Just three.

Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan shed the wall-of-twee plenitude The 1900s do so well, and in tandem with Charles D’Autremont weave a markedly looser “mid-fi” collection hatched in that venerable, nebulous American thirdspace: bedrooms, basements, and the odd studio under duress. It’s a thoroughly pleasing ride, with twangy divagations here and there — just echoes, really: see, inter alia, “Heather on Heather” — but for the most part is a clear-sightedly eclectic popfest, surprising but never jarring.

Anderson’s voice isn’t distinctive, but his steady delivery, his allergy to overt histrionics, keeps the layered instrumentation at center stage. What wags will doubtless call lush, shimmering, haunting, strikes me as just subtle. Each track wears its thick adornment lightly, and it never feels fussy, just mindful.

The press machine says Mazes channel New Zealand — i.e. Flying Nun, 1981 A.D.; The Chills, The Clean, and all — but I’m hearing a synthesis and gentle reconfiguration of ’90s archetypes above all. When the Farfisa cuts through on “Cat State Comity,” assertive but not strutting, a baroque little foil to the vocal melody, they’re speaking Aislers Set. Similarly on “Love to Lay,” as close to pop perfection as it comes: organ meat lines the skeletal form, nearly motorik in its hushed insistence. Vocal lines dive and weave, setting up daring chord changes that don’t disorient so much as enlighten. The lazy boy–girl act recalls the light-hearted Yo La Tengo that comes out on Fakebook; post-surf amuse-bouches fall in with the Crabs, the K also-rans, or the supple, spare guitar duels proffered lately by, say, Real Estate.

Perhaps Mazes isn’t as freewheeling as they say — everything works in deference, even if not outright submission, to a cunning, capacious logic — but it supplies a certain levity that higher-strung perfectionist pop often manifestly lacks. The stars align, maybe, and it all adds up.

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