Mazes - Wooden Aquarium

by Rob Taylor Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-09-08

Mazes are so uncharacteristic of Manchester, your mind is drawn from any regional consideration. Wherever you stand regarding the influence of the internet on the globalisation of music, the reality is that many savvy urbanites see such barriers as entirely artificial. Mazes are typically eclectic, as one often finds with crate-mining urbanites hanging out in big urban settings, like London.

 

The last Mazes albums, showed a sympatico with power-pop forerunners like Big Star, The Replacements, and Teenage Fanclub. Because I’m from Australia, much of the music reminded me of great Aussie pop bands like Melbournites Even and Sydney’s 78 Saab (See Crossed Lines).

 

Wooden Aquarium  is a coming of age. They’ve found an identity that is distinctly and unequivocally theirs to thrust upon the revivalist scene. Songs like 'Surf and Turf/Maths Tag' and 'Boxing Clever' on debut album A Thousand Heys were almost a homage to Pavement, whereas the rest of that catchy and indefatigably referenced power-pop album was a tentative reach, or a pitch for recognition in a crowded field of competent pop rock bands.

 

There was nothing in my view to truly distinguish them. On that debut, there was a mid-album slump with meandering tunes like 'Wait Anyway' and 'Cenataph' where the bright sunlight waned and dimmed under the stress of uncertain ideas.  Still, the track 'Summer Hits' showed facility for great pop writing. Second album Ores and Minerals had its Krautrock influences, and even Broadcast came to mind on interlude 'Significant Bullet', but the album didn’t sit well with me as a cohesive work.

 

Wooden Aquarium as an album is, however, different because of two factors. There is no deliberate manipulation of styles, and secondly the songwriting has tightened and improved appreciably. There are lots of memorable tunes on Wooden Aquarium. 'Astigmatism' has a jaunty three-chord interplay, and a kind of elastic reverb on the guitar strings sounding very loose and carefree. 'Salford' starts out like a savant Malkmus song, but confidently strides out into indie-rock territory as if saying goodbye to shy reverence. On 'Explode into Colours', jangly guitars ring out with enough angularity and chromatism to elevate the songs high above the twee-ness barometer.  

 

There’s a lovely reverie about the first five tracks, seemlessly joining each proceeding song like each belonged as an essential ingredient to the whole. Unlike previous efforts, on Wooden Aquarium Mazes waste no time exposing the hook. 'Vapour' is a beautiful pop song, and Mazes play the melody perfectly, firstly with a scuttled verse, and then a bridge to the prettiest chorus I’ve heard in a while.

 

'RIPP' continues the trend in creating a connect between clusters of tracks, with a garbled ambient piece that fortunately doesn’t overstay its welcome, unlike the first track of stanza two 'Letters between U and V' which fails to grab any attention. Every time I hear this track, I find something else to do, like put the milk back in the fridge.

 

'Mineral Springs' comes on like a lost R.E.M. song, with an exquisite chorus and a so-so mechanical core. Increased strength is found on 'Universal Me' and 'The Third Ridge' with its descending epilogue bringing a sombre end to an otherwise upbeat album.

 

Mazes may be from Manchester, but their heart still belongs in the American midwest.

 

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