Guitars. That’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? Whether wielding the axe like a high-calibre weapon or hunching over the fretboard in deep concentration, throwing a decent pose with a six-string is undeniably central to rock iconography. However, it’s rare to find anyone doing anything even remotely fresh with rock’s instrument of choice these days.
That’s an issue that Mazes are clearly keen to address. Although Ores & Minerals contains lots of other stuff (singing, tunes, drums, bass and the like), the three-piece’s second full-length is – at its core – all about kneeling at the altar of guitar. We’re not talking about the classic guitar hero stereotypes. There’s not a trace of the kind of foolhardily self-indulgent mega-jamming only truly extraordinary individuals (Hendrix and Neil Young at their very best spring to mind) can get away with without a serving of tar and feathers. Stones and/or Black Sabbath-derived monster riffology is also notably absent.
Instead, Mazes deploy their guitars in service of the common good, propelling what could very easily be merely okay tunes into the realm of the genuinely compelling. Not that this is a completely monomaniac exercise. A new weapon in the band’s arsenal, hypnotically repetitive, loop-enriched beats – the motorik objectives of Neu! et al and the dance music they went on to inspire are clearly an increasingly important influence – are a towering presence. However, the defining characteristic of Ores & Minerals is the two taut guitar lines that race each other around a particularly unwieldy labyrinth, gradually building up pace and intensity as they do so, occasionally (conventional logic-dodging ‘Dan Higgs Particle’) advised by Captain Beefheart’s contrary grasp on time signatures. Although audibly indebted to the similarly innovative and convention-dodging guitar-mangling of Sonic Youth and the breed of vintage US alt. rock – Dinosaur Jr., Pavement etc. – that provided the building blocks for the band’s 2011 debut A Thousand Heys, there’s a tightness and economy (check out the thrillingly minimalistic meltdown towards the end of the title track for an example) to the sound that makes the album sound excitingly different.
Weirdly, the album’s main weakness is also one of its key strengths. Ores & Minerals opens with ‘Bodies‘, a seven-minute mini-epic propelled by a beat that’s as relentless as the ticking off a clock on a time bomb that summarises all that’s great about the album so convincingly that listening to the rest can be a bit anti-climactic. Having said that, there are other peaks – notably ‘Skulking‘, a dynamic gem with guitar interplay and momentum-building that’s slightly reminiscent of Wilco‘s ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ – scattered along the way…and it would be a bit unreasonable to criticise a band for getting things too right.