Manchester’s Mazes love to experiment. Rooted in psychedelia, the band’s past releases have explored genres such as Britpop, 60s folk, and lo-fi, among other inspirations. Admitted lovers of all things American indie, the English outfit recorded their latest effort, Wooden Aquarium, in wintry upstate New York. It’s the classic cabin recording tale: holed up for days with only nature, music, and each other for company. It’s an adventurous story that’s also rather quaint, and quite appropriate for an eccentric collection that’s far from flashy, but still shines bright.
A sonic crossroads, Wooden Aquarium bridges Mazes’ U.K. origins with the band’s vast array of influences. “Salford,” a charming duet, is named for a borough of Manchester, while “Stamford Hill” is a district in North London. On the former, guest vocalist Heather Strange’s American accent playfully does battle with Mazes singer Jack Cooper’s English inflection. “I have hidden layers! I am cool!” she declares across a driving, off-kilter beat, setting the scene of a painfully hip destination.
Wooden Aquarium is light-hearted to its core, but doesn’t lack in intellect. “I like to think time is cyclical,” Cooper ruminates on the thoughtful “It Is What It Is,” its moody melody enveloping like a warm coat. Later, choppy guitars work to break the track’s smooth trajectory at precisely the right moment. Absurdly catchy, “Letters Between U and V” is Wes Anderson level cuteness, but doesn’t verge on saccharine sweet. It’s a fine line, but on their third full-length, Mazes strike a delicate balance. Steady rhythms, instrumental freak-outs, and carefully-timed lulls keep the experiments right on track.
A young but already prolific band, Mazes show great promise in their ability to evolve with each successive release. A wholly impressive slice of indie rock, Wooden Aquarium is uniquely peculiar, but not unlike its predecessors, 2011’s A Thousand Heys and last year’s Ores & Minerals. As far as experiments go, third time’s the charm.