T.U.G.G. – Mazes
1.) Mazes (with Ted Bowne)
3.) Dark Days (featuring Room Mates)
4.) Don’t Wait (with Ted Bowne)
6.) Top of the World
13.) Let Go
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: May 17th, 2013
Website: T.U.G.G. Website
Rock-reggae foursome T.U.G.G. hails from one of the most unlikely places you’d expect to hear island-infused reggae—namely the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is best known for Pabst Blue Ribbon, cheese, Harley Davidson, snow and even the notorious, Jeffrey Dahmer. Over the last handful of years T.U.G.G. has staked their claim in the “Bagger State” and the Midwest music scene—having toured with the Dirty Heads and the legendary Wailers, as well as shared the stage with Slightly Stoopid, SOJA, Rusted Root and Karl Denson. Since 2009, T.U.G.G has released four albums, including 2012’s Home Brew, which spent three weeks on the Hot 100 iTunes Reggae Album Chart, peaking at #2. For their fifth release, Mazes, the band hit the studio with Passafire singer/guitarist Ted Bowne. Bowne acted as the album’s primary producer, engineer and mixer.
Mazes delivers a little bit of everything, for everyone, including a mix of rock, reggae, ska, island and a dash of hip-hop. In many ways, Mazes is exactly what I’d expect from a rock-reggae band, with a couple surprises. I expected to hear the obvious Sublime influences, but I didn’t expect to hear a couple strong instrumental tracks, a 1950’s-style surfer rock (type) track and a “head-scratcher” of a hip-hop interlude.
For me, T.U.G.G is at their best when they incorporate rock elements. The album’s first song and title track, “Mazes” features a strong guitar solo, along with several tempo changes. The song easily hooks the listener with a catchy-melody and unpredictable song structure. “Mazes” oozes influences from Bowne, and could have very easily been a Passafire track. Likewise, “Scars” and “Slippin” all have rock elements—think Ballyhoo! mixed with last year’s Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds. “Calamari” is a 1950’s-style surfer rock instrumental track. The track is one of the album’s best and could easily be heard during the opening credits on any Quentin Tarantino movie.
The strength of “Mazes” is the album’s production. Producer Ted Bowne’s influences are obvious at times and subtle at others. With the exception of a couple tracks, the album feels strong musically—featuring mostly predictable song structures, nicely timed vocal loops and a nearly seamless infusion of multiple genres.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest surprises is the track “Dark Days”—but, not in a good way. This is one of those surprises you wish had never happened—kind of like getting a 1984 Pontiac Fiero for your birthday. About halfway through the song, I had to check my iPod to make sure I was still listening to T.U.G.G., and thought to myself, “My god! What is this?” The song starts out strong with a dark, bass-driven groove and catchy chorus, but quickly takes a nose dive with a rap interlude by Room Mates. The rap simply doesn’t work and seems unnecessarily forced into the song, turning “Dark Days” from one of the album’s strongest songs to its weakest.
In all, Mazes is a respectable showing by T.U.G.G. The album offers a couple surprises and demonstrates the quartet’s aptitude for rock. The album has unique elements, but generally feels like your standard rock-reggae album. For me, if T.U.G.G. had capitalized on the uniqueness of the title track they would have more clearly defined the “T.U.G.G sound” and taken a step away from what is expected from a rock-reggae band.
Written & Reviewed By: Kit Chalberg
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