By Layla Marino
Collaborations rule the landscape nowadays in pop music. Since the cusp of the 21st century, there has been a growing emphasis on the producers and writers of pop songs as well as the performing singers. This trend began largely in hip hop with characters like Lil’ John and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, but quickly spread to include other genres.
Along a similar timeline, EDM grew out of the underground rave scene, where producers were the only stars. As EDM and pop combined, famous singers and famous producers joined forces to create tracks which have the wild beats and danceability of rave music, but the verse-chorus-verse song structure and iconic singers of the classic pop song.
Today it’s not at all unusual to see rave producers like Tiesto and Steve Aoki teaming up with the likes of Nelly Furtado and Iggy Azalea. In fact these collaborations may be more common than not in 2015. London singer/songwriter Mark Maze has become an exception in pop and EDM, as he both writes and performs all of his music and vocals.
On his debut album, Uncomfortable Truths, Maze brings pop vocals and clean, well-produced backing tracks together under one roof.
Mark Maze grew up in a working-class environment in Leichester, UK. He names early musical influences as Prince, Pink and Michael Jackson, as he found pop to be an inspiring bright spot in his otherwise drab and sometimes dangerous childhood. Maze applied as a teenager to become part of an R&B-based boy band, but quickly realized that he would have no creative control over the music or his image, and opted to go it alone.
His first real job in entertainment as a talent manager and booker solidified both his musical vision and work ethic as he chipped away at his own work. He finally released Uncomfortable Truths on New Year’s Day, 2015.
Now, your humble reviewer is not generally a pop or EDM fan, but I know a well-composed, well performed track when I hear one in pretty much any genre. Mark Maze’s style both in vocals and in composition is clean and well-proportioned, with an intensity which would do his forbears proud. “I love the intensity and vocal production of artists such as Prince, Pink and MJ as well as the 80’s influences of Erasure, Depeche Mode and early Madonna,” says Maze of his influences and style.
Uncomfortable Truths has a number of tracks which reflect Maze’s love for the early pop masters, but they are all definitely smashed through his own prism. His composition and production are thoroughly modern and his lyrics highly personal and sometimes incendiary.
The first single on the album, “Devil May Cry,” begins as a passionate ballad, featuring only Maze’s pitch-perfect tenor and a piano It then breaks into a rave-worthy house and techno fusion, creating a modern pop combination without a lot of hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.
This choice of an acoustic or rock intro before bursting into the higher energy EDM meat of the track is a trend throughout Uncomfortable Truths, and seems to be done for effect.
Maze is a master at tension building, and I believe he composes the songs this way to feature his lyrics. While the album has solid footing in pop, these elements of intensity, unapologetically honest lyrics and the odd minor key make Mark Maze’s debut a little indie and definitely a standout in his chosen genre.
The two other recommended tracks on Uncomfortable Truths are “2nd Best” and “Robot Eyes.” “2nd Best” is a wonderful dubstep-infused slow burn which builds its tension through heavy bass, interesting samples and the almost clashing timbre of Maze’s vocals, which are surprisingly uplifting and almost lilting compared to the backing track.
Normally an arrangement like this would make a sonic mess, but in this case the two opposing parts work together to compliment each other.
“Robot Eyes,” whose backing track is an interesting combination of R&B rhythm and super-rave melody, is destined to be a pop banger. This song features the most sensual lyrics and vocals on the album in the type futuristically-tinged pop/EDM fusion that fans are clamoring for these days. “Robot Eyes” shows Maze’s versatility in pop while not giving up any of his characteristic intensity or quality of sound.
Mark Maze of course has some help on Uncomfortable Truths in the form of a co-writer and collaborating producers Laconic, but it’s clear that the sound and clarity of vision on this album are Maze originals.
His vision to combine pop, EDM and a little classical and rock into one intense style all his own is fully realized in this album. Maze seems to have done this on his own terms as well, no easy feat in today’s pop climate. Maze will be touring soon to support Uncomfortable Truths, and fans can find upcoming tour dates on his website. The album can be streamed or purchased on Maze’s Bandcamp page.