The 1900s might be the best indie pop band to come out of Chicago in recent memory, which makes a side project involving two of the group’s core members something to be noted. Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan’s Mazes is a much sparer affair than the richly textured and densely arranged sounds of their full-time band, but the songwriting framework remains distinctly intact. Anderson’s compositions pull from any number of disparate sources (Fleetwood Mac, Low, Ladybug Transistor, The Doors, Page France, etc.) and jumble them up bare-bones style. The result is a supple, breezy album full of hooks and gorgeous vocal harmonies — check out “Face Down on Forest Roads” which features a vocal bridge that gives FM’s “The Chain” a run for its money.
As naked as most of these songs feel, the band often uses tasteful fills from assorted guest players/instruments. The lamenting melodica on “Song For Helen” ends up being that track’s glorious centerpiece. The slack strummed banjo of “Manual Systems” gets a similar honor. The only real misgiving that can be leveled at the album is that occasionally Anderson’s guitar noodling gets unnecessarily busy instead of simply rounding out the sound.
Understandably Mazes isn’t at the level of proficiency of Anderson and Donovan’s 1900s yet, but this debut is definitely a rewarding pit stop between that band’s full-lengths.
Parasol Records: www.parasol.com