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Chicago act Mazes appeared in 2009 as a side project for members of the heavily arranged pop band the 1900s, and their debut album felt very much like a relaxed excuse to blow off some steam with loose bedroom recordings. In the time between that album and Mazes/Blazes, however, the band solidified into a more traditional live outfit, going on tour and taking on some of the same tightness and arrangement they were originally escaping from. While the 17 tracks here are still rich with some of the trademarks of home-recorded indie pop, the attention to detail and colorful variables in songwriting set them apart from the standard slacker bedroom pop fare. Principal songwriter Edward Anderson approaches the songs here from an interesting blend of sometimes contradictory influences. Early Guided by Voices is an obvious starting point for an album of colorfully home-recorded pop songs all between 40 seconds and three minutes long, and there are definitely some Pollard-esque moments of hazy tradtionalist power pop throughout the album. Songs bordering on interludes, like the melancholic "Litsa," have melodies so enchanting they feel immediately warm and familiar, the logical end result of years spent listening to New Zealand pop and the Smiths in various rainy cityscapes. "Magnificent Beast," on the other hand, employs pitch-shifted group vocals and wobbly keyboards sounding like a cartoon monster gobbling up everything in its sight, much like the psychedelic nightmare of early Ween or Bongwater. Other songs like the faux-French sung "FUSA" and the fuzz bass and blown-out drums of the otherwise acoustic minute-long "Dudes" mesh the sonic weirdness of Eric's Trip with the often puzzling genre-bending and inside-joke humor of mid-'90s Teen Beat Records bands. Anderson's persona shifts throughout Mazes/Blazes, with vocodered pop-star flourishes blurring into moments that are by turns either earnest, sophomoric, or flamboyantly flashy. None of this comes off as catty or distancing, which is mostly on the strength of the songs and the stickiness of the band's melodies. The casual approach Mazes would lead you to believe they're working with is betrayed by songs that are far too interesting, considered, and tailored to be simply tossed off. The end result is a slow-burning album of fake slacker anthems that sinks in a little deeper with each listen, and feels like it's already been a classic in some parallel dimension for a while.

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