After their European tour with Parquet Courts last autumn, Mazes convinced the Brooklyn band’s producer, Jonathan Schenke, to work on their third album. Deploying analogue techniques during a wintery fortnight of sessions in upstate New York, Schenke has brought a buoyant, beefy clout to Mazes’ most cohesive collection yet.
Manchester-bred and London-based, Mazes’ default rhythm setting is motorik, a device used effectively again on this album, as singer/guitarist Jack Cooper’s wiry electric fretwork weaves colourful threads around drummer Neil Robinson’s progressive pulse; a momentum that carries many of Wooden Aquarium’s finer moments, from the opener ‘Astigmatism’ – on which Cooper belies his slender vocal to implant an infectious, upbeat hook “I am a mountain climber/I am a deep-sea diver” – to the freakbeat shimmy of ‘Letters Between U and V’.
Significantly, Mazes have more joy diverting from this formula here than on 2013’s Ores & Minerals, check the hazy astral-pop of ‘It Is What It Is’, on which Robinson and bassist Conan Roberts form a fluid groove as the trio truly gel; the downtempo syncopation underpinning the wistful ‘Explode Into Colours’; and ‘Stamford Hill’, which, enhanced by swirling keys and Cooper’s barbed riffs, provides the brown-brick and resolutely unhipster Hackney suburb with a sprightly Byrdsian theme it scarcely merits.
Conveying an optimism surely engendered by its American inception, ‘Wooden Aquarium’ finds a matured Mazes growing out of the limitations of lo-fi, injecting creativity and craft into a poppy meld of psychedelia, shoegaze and new wave. They sound like a band now giving it their best shot, a determined raising of the stakes that deserves to be matched by a similar upswing of recognition.