Ores & Minerals
[Fat Possum; 2013]
In Billy Collins poetic plea “Introduction to Poetry,” he asks his students to “drop a mouse into a poem / and watch him probe his way out.” Recently while reading this poem, I found myself making a connection between the lab rat metaphor and the London band Mazes. The obvious association is in the band’s name, but my connection went much deeper than the literal.
From the first time I heard Ores & Minerals, I knew I loved the band’s sophomore album. The problem was in the fact I didn’t know why I liked it so much. Like the students in Collins poem who “…begin beating (the poem) with a hose / to find out what it means,” I wanted a clear analysis of what was at the core of my enjoyment. Few of the songs feature choruses, and if they do, they aren’t instantly memorable. There aren’t any tracks on the album that beg my attention nor do the lyrics ever delve much beyond the contents of a fortune cookie. The songs seem to ramble on for long stretches of time, never really going any place. Yet, despite all this monotony, I couldn’t quit listening to the album. Like the mouse in the maze, I was lost in the music but had no real way of figuring out the answer as to why.
Often it reminds me of The Feelies easy-breezing ways or the Modern Lovers low-key assault, and at other times Mazes have hints of Wire or Television’s airwaves whirring just below the surface of their metronomic loops. But just when I think I’ve got my thumb on the band’s jangle pop leanings, their songs will throw me asunder, kraut rock leanings taking hold of each track, turning what starts as a simple, constant loop into a growing, evolving organism (perhaps the geologic album title isn’t far off). Despite the songs’ penchant for slowly changing right before your ears, the band never makes it obvious, often making their manipulations as slight as a minute hand.
“Bodies” – mundane, repetitive, and irresistible:
Even when I feel like I have the album trapped in the corner of the late 70s, tracks like “Sucker Punched” and “Delancey Essex” quickly erase any progress made on the puzzle that is Mazes. These songs veer off from the straight and narrow kraut-jangle-rock, bringing in the Pavement/Malkmus influence more prominently displayed on their first album, A Thousand Heys. What’s all the more confounding is the fact that there is rarely a reliance on distortion, a mainstay on their debut album. On Ores & Minerals, every song is so clean, crisp, and neatly pressed that you’d swear it’d come straight from Don Draper’s closet.
After much mulling over my inability to figure out why I liked the album, I decided that my enjoyment didn’t need to be labeled at categorized. Music isn’t geology. If Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West is the ultimate road trip album, than Mazes Ores & Minerals is the ultimate commuter album, the continuous ringing guitars and driving drum tracks setting the paces for another roll through morning traffic. Maybe my connection to Billy Collin’s poem wasn’t quite right. Rather than being a confusing maze of melodies for the lab rat listener, maybe the album is like Collin’s request for his students to “Water ski across the surface of the poem / waving at the poet’s name on the shore.”
“Skulking,” probably the best track on the album: