How to Build a Maze is the second album from Cocoanut Groove. Fronted by Olov Antonsson, it's their first as a full band, the debut album Madeleine Street (2008) having essentially been a solo project. Hailing from the North of Sweden, Antonsson wears his1960s baroque pop influences on his sleeve, along with traces of latter day guitar pop like The Smiths and The Clientele, and folk acts like Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake.
The songs for How to Build a Maze were written and recorded over quite a long period of time. Bleaker and less naive than their debut it's still no great departure, with Olov continuing to strive for 60s pop perfection, attempting to write something as beautiful as "Beechwood Park" by The Zombies or "World Of You" by The Aerovons. As well, there are quite a few traditional Swedish folk melodies hidden on the album, like the ones you find on the album "Jazz på svenska" by Swedish pianist Jan Johansson.
Recorded in various places around Olov’s hometown Umeå, with no professional recording studios involved whatsoever, the album is about getting lost in different ways – losing your way in city streets, losing friends and watching summers pass. The theme can be summed up by this simple definition from Wikipedia: "A maze is a tour puzzle in the form of a complex branching passage through which the solver must find a route."
Having taken their name from a Lovin' Spoonful/Roger Nichols song, Cocoanut Groove formed in 2007 with Olov writing and recording the song "The End Of The Summer On Bookbinder Road", which became their debut single. Olov writes all the songs and plays guitar, as well as bass, piano and whatever else is needed. Over the years (and on this record) he has been joined by Calle Thoor, Anton Runesson and William Andersson (drums), Josef Ringqvist (bass), Mattias Malm (guitar, keys, vocals, arrangements, percussion and whatnot), Ivar and Gunnar Lantz (strings) and Frida Danielsson (trumpet).
Cocoanut Groove follow in a grand tradition of Swedish indiepop, with a focus on melody and beauty, tinged with melancholy. From the long, dark winters to the respite of the dreamy summers, the songs talk of escaping the city and pining for the countryside, about unemployment and having nothing to do but drink coffee and watch the birds fly.
How To Build A Maze is an album about getting lost, be it physically, geographically, mentally, emotionally…you get the idea. Moreover, its soothing ’60s pop stylings encapsulate not just the process of straying from one’s path, but the mental state of being lost—the insightful pause as you parse together what comes next laced with the quiet appreciation of where you’ve found yourself, regardless of intent.
Ironically, this treatise on wanderlust serves as an important waypoint for Cocoanut Groove, marking their first release with an established lineup. Their first album, 2008′s Madeleine Street, was primarily a solo endeavour from frontman/founder Olov Antonsson, who continues to serve as key songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for the band, but now has the support of a full band for recording and touring.
Recorded in various spots around his hometown of Umeå, Sweden, without the use of any professional recording studios (further fueling the album’s wistless nature), the mix is surprisingly clean, and Antonsson shows a skillful hand in moving various pieces forward or backward to highlight precise pieces of instrumentation within his grand design. He often uses these shifts in instrumentation to further emphasize those feelings of wanderlust, such as with “The High Coast,” where jangly guitar lines audaciously scratch away at the verses only to be superseded by a spastic, Doors-y synth line, pecking at the give and take of anxiety and appreciation.
In many ways, How To Build A Maze is Antonsson acting in homage to his idols. Not only did he pilfer the name Cocoanut Groove from the title of a Lovin’ Spoonful song, but Maze borrows direct influence from Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, sharing some of the traditional folk melodies Johansson used for his 1964 avant-folk/-jazz album Jazz på svenska. Antonsson even takes a moment to include a tributary name-drop of The Zombies within “Night Walk” (“We count the stars just like in a song by The Zombies,” referring to “Beechwood Park” from their ’67 album Odessey and Oracle)—a soft-hearted, acoustic ballad which features twice on the album. Yet the clear divining rod for How To Build A Maze is Antonsson’s appreciation of the intermingling of pop, folk and rock prevalent in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Many of Maze‘s compositions lean on styles pioneered by now iconic acts like The Byrds, Donovan and Nick Drake.
The tide of How To Build A Maze ebbs and flows between airy folk and more haunting rock, but at all times keeps a relaxed aura in tow. Even its sharper-edged tracks—such as the relatively quick-paced “Colours” (which plays like an iteration of some of the early, jauntier numbers by Belle And Sebastian) and the scattered guitars-vs.-synth duality of “The High Coast”—maintain a flow that’s altogether soothing. How To Build A Maze plays out like a whisper from one’s own meandering inner monologue, a quiet reminder to live not for the destination, but for the journey itself.
(The Line Of Best Fit)
Cocoanut Groove's second album, 2013's How to Build a Maze, finds the band's leader joined by a group for the first time and together they craft some truly lovely indie pop that's highly arranged, affecting, and reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel fronting the Left Banke as reimagined by the Clientele. Plus a little moody '60s jangle pop to boot. As before, Olov Antonsson handles guitar with a light touch, vocals with a richly understated sweetness, and songs with a sure-handed skill. His band of like-minded cohorts color in the lovely songs with gentle horns, full vocal harmonies, percussion, and nice surprises like harpsichord and vintage keys. It's a classic indie pop sound that's been done and done again, but Antonsson and crew manage to make it sound fresh and new in a pleasantly autumnal way. Alternating between songs that have a happy skip in their step and those that have some clouds in their sky, the album is never anything less than a warm embrace of melody and tenderness. At its best, as on the smartly paced "A Secret Tune" or the Byrdsian title track, the band stake their claim as heir to the great indie pop groups of the past (Belle & Sebastian, East Village). That the whole album is made up of moments that have that kind of timeless feel means that Cocoanut Groove have done something special here. Hopefully, indie pop fans will be able to get past their amazingly awful name and embrace as they should, the lovely pop that Cocoanut Groove have made here.
(All Music Guide)