A couple of years ago, FatCat records left us a rather catchy album of happy songs with depressing lyrics. It was A thousand heys by Mazes. It was extremely enjoyable and the band had a strong live presence (strong enough to upstage both Spectrals and Best Coast. Yup, I said it.)
Flash forward a couple of years, an interesting split with Eagulls and touring with rock powerhouses like Milk Maid and Brown Brogues and living legends like Sebadoh and you have a band that has transformed entirely. If you played me this album 2 years ago and you told me “this is Mazes, you fat fuck”, I’d say you were telling me porkies. Not on the fat fuck bit, though.
You see, whereas they delved into fresh, catchy pop, Mazes now peddles a mixture of stoner and psychedelic krautrock. Take the darker songs from A thousand heys like ‘Bowie Knives’ and ‘Death House’ (my faves, incidentally) and extend them, adding samples, field recordings and droning, sweet, sweet droning. Sort of like the beginning from ‘Till I’m dead’ but extended for 50 or so minutes.
It’s not even a twist in the end situation. Straight off the bat, ‘Bodies’ shows the true colours of the band for this release. A catchy, almost minimal approach to lyrics lends the deviously poppy track soar into a lovely out of body trip. Think Wilco‘s ‘Kidsmoke (Spiders)’ and you sort of get the idea of what this composition is all about.
A bit of playful guitar riffing is distributed evenly in this album. ‘Dan Higgs Particle’ has a sweet guitar tone reminiscent of Mark Kozelek‘s louder stage (think ‘Make like paper’) and this guitar work is wonderfully accompanied in the hypnotical ‘Ores & Minerals’. Love the bassline in this one, the anchor back to reality from the rather floaty atmosphere.
The rhythm section gets their own chance to shine. ‘Sucker punched’ has this bass riff working out like cardio; strong enough in the instrumental bits, slower but steady in the chorus. Drumming wise, my fave part is ‘Delancey Essex’, possibly the poppiest track in the album, with some guitar overdubs that kick it in the “dreamy” territory.
‘Bite’ is pure porn for the drone enthusiast, with all guitar and bass playing catch up in some parts. ‘Jaki’ has this mystic aura around it, perhaps the more thoughtful (and introspective) moment in the album. A couple of instrumentals (‘Leominster’, ‘Significant bullet’) help segue the different moods in Ores & Minerals.
Two very fine tracks are reserved for the ending. ‘Skulking’ goes for the classic rock riff while the almost mechanical drumming sends us into a trance. A trance with a short half-life as the squeal-like shout of “Animals!” jolts. That jolt eventually becomes a shocking, fuzzed out solo that conveys one true emotion: freedom.
After that rock out, a tense moment of introspection follows. It feels almost like catharsis and it’s the gorgeous ‘Splice’ closing the album. A real joy in a live setting, the song maintains that fresh feeling in its recorded form. “The USA is not great, it’s just ok” is delivered in that jaded way, like when you realise that stuff you held up highly as a kid isn’t what it musters up to be when you finally achieve it.
A thousand heys, Mazes first album, is a house party when you are 17. Ores and minerals is that life-changing roadtrip you do when you’re 27. This is their Saturn Return. They have changed into an exciting new entity and I for one am happy to see this new stage.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López