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Mazes: 'Manual Systems'

Though it may be tempting to categorize Chicago band Mazes as a twee band by the sound of its upbeat and melodic opening song, "Manual Systems," the melancholy lyrics that follow expose a darker side to this otherwise buoyant group, preventing the trio's self-titled debut album from becoming too saccharine. Rich, evocative images, like shattered dreams, long lines, exploding soda cans, black hearts, and dark forests, accompany jaunty guitar solos, upbeat piano interludes, and cheery duets to create an intriguing mix of lows and highs.

At times, Mazes cultivates a charming, lo-fi sound by recording much of its music in bedrooms and basements with a Tascam 4-Track. But the band also successfully dabbles with a folksier sound by tossing instruments like the banjo and harmonica into the mix. The layered backing vocals and slight twang on "I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt," for instance, come together to create a sound reminiscent of Seattle band Fleet Foxes.

Mazes is predominantly the work of only three people: Caroline Donovan and Edward Anderson, both of the band The 1900s, and friend Charles D'Autremont. But a rotating cast of guest musicians from the Chicago area help to round out the band's sound.

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Rachel Kowal