Title: Who Is Maple Syrup
Artist: Maple Syrup
4/5 stars
Released: 13/03/17
Reviewed by: RUBEN MITA


“Who Is Maple Syrup” reads the name of the likewise-titled Wellington four-piece’s latest album. It is also the question that most of the public would ask upon being presented with it, but as most of its 11 tracks prove, it’s a question more people should know the answer to.

It’s also a question the group set out to answer from the start, making their identity clear-cut and strong throughout: A consistent sunny garage-rock sound and vivid lyrical snapshots of young life (“My guitar is the very thing/that keeps me sane” they sing on the cynically titled Keeps Me Sane (Nobody Cares)).

According to guitarist/vocalist Vera Ellen, the group’s aim in making this record was to accurately capture their live sound. True to this, the album is rough, relatively raw, and brimming with energy, while sticking to the simple drums-bass-and-two-guitars setup throughout. The interlocking melodic guitar riffs are reminiscent of late 70’s New York groups like Television, a band whose sound can also be heard reflected in the secondary vocals of Jerry Ramirez, mixing with Ellen’s expressive pseudo-punk lead.

Album opener, All Seeing, establishes the album’s musical elements, with clean ‘n crunchy guitars bouncing off the solid drums and a standout bassline. The vocals are whimsical, a dramatic yet childish chant followed by the two vocalists in tandem repeatedly telling us “you’re thinking too much.” It is with this advice to avoid over-analysis that we progress into the simple feel-good album.

Vogue Model is an immediate standout, a delightfully bouncy piece of sunny garage-pop with some punchy drumming and playful interplay between the female and male vocals. Next track Make Me A Failure showcases the group’s noisier, heavier side to success, though How About You takes their cool-pop elements one step too far with a grating falsetto “yoo-hoo” chorus. In fact, a recurring feature of the album is songs that feature fantastic grooving verses but fall flat on more direct chorus melodies, something they could easily pass without.

Maybe Someday (I’ll Have A Friend) may have a title that sounds like the best Smiths song never written, but the music is all discordant guitar chords and a comically sing-song vocal line, climaxing in a wall of distortion over which Ellen drops the American imitations to proudly flaunt her NZ accent.

When the album’s relentless energy briefly gives way towards its end, it results in one of the band’s best songs, Isla-Mae, that starts with a melancholy, sepia-washed groove before accelerating into one of their more successful and direct choruses. Like the entire collection of songs, its success is centred around the impressive solidity of the rhythm section, consisting of bassist Lukas Jury and drummer Tarquin Smith.

The lyrics throughout are equal parts non-sensical and direct, but always semi-comical portrayals of youthful urban life (“My passions lie in art but I studied biology… I’m a fan of the Beatles, and also full-time monogamy”). Often these are delivered through hilariously forced rhymes (“The clothes I lived in back in winter/balance in bags on top of your printer”), that nevertheless create a distinctive childlike aesthetic.

Who Is Maple Syrup isn’t an album trying to say anything particularly special, but that doesn’t detract from it in the slightest. It is inconsequential by design, and stronger for it, as their vision remains within the specific but satisfying scope of their brand of garage-rock. They don’t reach outside of their comfort zone, and therefore don’t require the listener to reach outside of theirs, but they cater strongly enough to a specific aesthetic to make this a fine thing.

These are songs that take place in dark city rooms, but translate perfectly to a sunny summer day.


Standout Tracks: Vogue Model, Isla-Mae, Tracey