When they exploded onto the British indie scene in 2008 with debut album Colour It In, the Maccabees were armed with songs such as Toothpaste Kisses and Tissue Shoulders to wow the Skins generation. With an album that showcased the band’s own brand of energised pop punk chock-full of hooks for scenesters to shake their long fringes at, their second album Wall of Arms was equally acclaimed and yet seemed to be searching for something more. There were still the crunching bass lines and frenetic two-and-a-half-minute-indie-thrashes yet the songs seemed infused with more subtlety.
This was in no small part down to the influence of producer Markus Dravs, who worked with Arcade Fire on their 2000 effort Neon Bible. The result? A whole new level of emotion and turmoil behind the Maccabees’ songs. NME in their infinite wisdom described the five-man-band from Brighton as an ‘evolving entity’ and were intrigued to see where they would end up.
And now we know. The band’s latest album Given to the Wild neatly follows the recent trend of bands seemingly waiting until their third album to record their best work; case in point, Arcade Fire with Suburbs, which effectively combined the sound of their first two works whilst at the same time taking their music beyond anything that they had yet accomplished. Given to the Wild unmistakably draws from the Maccabees’ previous two albums and yet is just as tangibly lightyears ahead.
The frustration that was palpable in the second album at not quite being able to express what they were looking for is gone. They are a band that has very clearly achieved what they set out to musically and as a result the music is far more relaxed than it once was. Lead singer Orlando Weeks’ voice is no longer a punchy South London yelp but more steady and elegant. The songs seem more structured than they once were too.
It is no secret that the band’s style of songwriting underwent several changes for this album and it seems to have worked to an extent that the band – and the fans – could only have dreamed of. Instead of thrashing out songs in a jam the band members would write their individual segments. This means the songs rise and fall with great skill, with sonic swells coming at just the right moments. Second track ‘Child’ almost floats by; an ethereal trance that builds into a perfect crescendo of brass and a soaring electric guitar solo.
The Arcade Fire influences are still there, as is most clear on the mesmerising Ayla which rolls along in a slow march, gradually accumulating more instrument tracks to the main melody until it is a great juggernaut of a thing that you simply cannot stop listening to. At times the songs verge on becoming stadium anthems, however the band manage to rein them in before you could quite imagine them being performed by Coldplay in some amphitheatre to thousands of screaming Volkswagen drivers.
This is perhaps the greatest skill of the album, the ability to reach without breaking anything. The production value is obviously higher but this does not lead to the emotion being lost in a malaise of sound. In the best song on the album Heave, Orlando asks the question, ‘Are we so different?’ right before what we expect to be a shuddering climax. However it never comes, instead the song self-assuredly meanders along and peters out in a calm final third. Dripping with an almost breathless satisfaction, Orlando sings this refrain over and over, knowing that he need do nothing else, his goal having been achieved.
As a whole, the band seem to exude this confident mind set. It is not just the fact that they have worked together to create an excellent album, but that they know they have. Their progression from indie kids to proper grown-up musicians is something quite spectacular to witness; a transformation which gives this writer hope for the future of modern music.
Image credit – Neil101