The world has a seemingly inexhaustible thirst for low-fi indie rock. If it sounds like the dudes in question smoke a lot of pot, don’t wash their hair much, and record exclusively on their older brother’s old eight track, then there is an audience ready to gobble that record right up. And who am I to judge? I spent a great deal of time in my 20s listening to old Pavement and Guided by Voices albums. Indeed, I still enjoy a little Brighten the Corners or Bee Thousand from time to time. For those of us who came of age in the 1990s, there is something unquestionably, compellingly nostalgic about stuff that sounds like fuzzy, late afternoons hanging out with your friends while empty Mickey’s wide-mouths accumulate on the front porch railing and old Sonic Youth and Sebadoh records serenade from an old boom box. But this begs the question: is it really necessary for new, young bands to sound like this in 2013? I suppose that it is not for me to answer this question, but I will say this: Mazes’ new album Ores & Minerals is starting to grow on me both in spite of, and because of, my ‘90s indie rock nostalgia.
The thing is, Mazes are from England, which complicates things somewhat. There is something deeply, profoundly American about the style of music Mazes play. It is one thing to extricate this sound from the 1990s and insert it into the second decade of the new millennium, but removing it from both time and space is doubly disorienting. But perhaps this is the point; isn’t this messy, half-assed, “let’s finish this track and then go smoke another bowl before the Simpsons comes on” kind of indie rock supposed to be kind of disorienting? But all of this genre speculation and sorting through of nostalgic impulses risks glossing over the fact that Ores & Minerals is a lot of fun to listen to. These songs are catchy, care-free, and full of hooks. Mazes can be bouncy and repetitive in the best way, suggesting not just a penchant for Pavement, but also Neu! This is 90s low-fi indie rock that you can dance to, and I bet more than a few kids will do just that when they get their hands on Ores & Minerals.
It would be fair enough to compare Mazes to a contemporary band like Wavves, although for my money Mazes are far more enjoyable. Mazes do not have the lyrical ingeniousness of a Steve Malkmus or Robert Pollard, but they are better in this department than the jaded, often tedious rambling of Wavves’ Nathan Williams. Does this stuff really stand up to the apex of ‘90s indie rock that it is paying homage to? No. But it is jangly, and pleasant, and perfect for the approaching summer season. It is hard for me to gage how kids who have never listened to Pavement or Guided by Voices might react to this stuff; the genre references are waist deep and smell of stale beer. But it is totally possible that some 18-year-old kids will discover Ores & Minerals and decide that it is a back-to-basics soundtrack to their summer.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.