Mazes A Thousand Heys

[FatCat; 2011]

Styles: indie guitar rock
Others: Pavement, These United States, Male Bonding

There’s a comfortable, broken-in feeling to Mazes’ full-length debut, A Thousand Heys. It fits snugly about the ears the way a well-worn shoe fits around your foot, acting like a digest of primal indie rock, a throwback to 1990s left-of-the-dial: hook-laden pop rock adorned with the echoes of Pavement and smudges of Sebedoh. The band itself cops to using some of its favorite old-school indie bands as starting points (“Most of our songs start off being called ‘The Clean Song’ or ‘Steve Shelley Song.’ Do most bands do that?” singer Jack Cooper mused in a recent piece on This Is Fake DIY). This results in an album whose position in the contemporary musical landscape is easy to triangulate but, to its credit, difficult to pin down. Everything sounds familiar, but it’s not so easily explained.

From the punk-lite rip of “Most Days” to the forlorn gallop of “Boxing Clever,” there’s an ingratiating quality to A Thousand Heys. It’s a pleasant enough listen, but memorable moments are hard to come by and often need to be snatched from the record’s current. The cracks in Cooper’s voice as he sings, “I wanna wrap the world in plastic” on “Go Betweens”; the disjointed transition between the rollicking “Vampire Jive” to the solo guitar sketch “Eva”; the rough-shod, alt-country reprise of the opening track in the coda to “’Til I’m Dead” — each moment is an instance of calculated imperfection that helps to put an identifiable face on an agreeable but otherwise unremarkable collection of songs. Even Cooper’s lyrics fall into that no-man’s land, where they’re too idiosyncratic to be relatable but not quite out-there enough to leave a lasting impression. There’s a dearth of personality here that even a catchy chorus (and they have plenty of those) can’t quite make up for.

One could choose to find fault with Mazes for hewing so closely to tradition, but I have nothing against what they’re trying to do here. I like when artists pander to my tastes. And my gripes with Mazes isn’t due to a lack of energy or enthusiasm; it’s just that, in sounding a little bit like every indie guitar band, they end up sounding like just any indie guitar band. They’ve got all the right footnotes and they know their way around a hook, but A Thousand Heys doesn’t carve out a distinctive enough place for itself amid this year’s crop of guitar-wielding miscreants.

Links: Mazes - FatCat

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