Cult Maze 35, 36

[Self-Released; 2007]

Styles: indie rock, jangle pop, post-punk
Others: Television, Pavement, The Feelies

It's no small feat finding a balance between the nonchalant looseness that at least partially defines indie rock as a genre and the cohesiveness generally necessary to draw in listeners. Many bands careen off in either direction, resulting in something more avant with little chance of building an audience, or something far too banal for hipsters to rock out to; but, judging by their second release, 35, 36, Cult Maze appear to have no trouble avoiding these pitfalls.

The mastermind here is singer/guitarist Jay Lobley, who sounds eerily similar to Tom Verlaine with both his chosen instruments. Still, Lobley comes off as no copycat. His style is more forthright, confident, and -- dare I say? -- ballsy. This especially comes through in his guitar playing, when Cult Maze seamlessly move from delicate and layered to aggressive and dense. To the unsuspecting, "Slow Vein" will likely provide a swift kick to the ass with its dynamic shifting from quirky, lean synth pop to muscle-flexing riff rock. Of course, the core of the sound is more the former than the latter, but the way these bursts of uncharacteristic ferocity serve to contextualize the more subdued moments is elegant, and bespeaks the maturity of this young band.

Although Lobley's voice has that "on the verge of cracking" timbre to it, it's kept anchored by the solid foundation of supporting musicians. Andrew Barron's drumming is controlled and versatile, ready to build to a fury or disintegrate to a whisper whenever appropriate, and Joshua Loring's bass and guitar allow for some nicely textured interplay. Perhaps the most underutilized element is Peet Chamberlain's keyboard wizardry; in the songs where it shines ("My Head," "Slow Vein," "Sticky Limo," "Wethouse," and "Never Lever"), it really makes an impact, and I can't help but pine for it when it's absent. Still, that's a minor mark against an album that pleases from start to finish and seems destined to be a breakthrough for a deserving band.

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