Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Album Review: The Maccabees - Given To The Wild

The Maccabees' first album was likeable enough, but really failed to capture the imagination in parts, despite its catchy set of indie-pop songs. The follow up, Wall Of Arms, was, by contrast, an absolute masterpiece. They kept up the poppier element of their sound but applied a darker mood and generally better tunes. So, where do we find them on this album? They've added an electronic element to the sound, but never so much that it's overdone. A lot of the album seems more restrained and is slightly lighter on the guitars. And they've created another great album - not perfect, as it has its pitfalls, but still very good.

The album opens with a two-minute intro which doesn't really serve as much other than an introduction to Child at track two. It works nicely but maybe goes on a minute and a bit too long, as singer Orlando Weeks croons the album's title and various other lyrics from Child over the top of an atmospheric, slowly rising synth sound. But then Child itself kicks in - a slow-burner filled with a fantastic guitar riff running through the whole song and there's brass instruments galore as was explored on Wall Of Arms. It picks up tempo towards the end as it moves quickly towards an epic climax as the last words 'and now it's all that's left' ring out. That's how you open an album.

So, where do the singles fit in? The first single Pelican finds itself after the middle of the album, slightly unexpectedly - it seemed like something that would come on the record quite early - but comes in nicely later on, its stabbing guitar riff running through the whole song. However, it's not one of the highlights of the album; it seems far too simple and as such, was probably a good idea for a first single, but when you compare it to some of the other songs on offer here, it pales in comparison. Feel To Follow, which has only got a video so far, is slightly better, taking on more of a build-up style, which culminates in an epic ending which some fantastic guitar work. However, that too remains one of the less interesting songs on the album.

The song that follows Feel To Follow, entitled Ayla, is the greatest one on the album. Starting off with tinkling piano that gradually builds towards an epic chorus, the song experiments with brass again and the vocals go deep and dark as was heard on their previous album. This song has to be a single, it's fantastic, especially the couple of moments when it all stops for a second and then smashes into the chorus. Another highlight is Grew Up At Midnight, the closing track, which starts off quiet and minimal, slowly adding bass to Weeks' high vocals and launching slowly into a chorus that repeats throughout the song and, on its last round, is sent stratospheric in a mad explosion of guitars and rolling drums. Then it all halts abruptly and sends the album out on the quiet notes with which the song began, leaving you gobsmacked.

The more electronic elements on the album are probably most visible on the songs Glimmer and Went Away. The former starts off with a drumbeat that gives way to a floaty, atmospheric guitar line. It doesn't really go anywhere, but is quite a beautiful song to behold. On the latter, a synth opens it up before Weeks' vocals reach new heights (in every sense) - so much that it doesn't even sound like him for the majority of the song. This one does end up going somewhere massive towards the end as they launch into the climax. The Maccabees are masters at closing their songs, if nothing else. The greatest moment is about two and a bit minutes in, after a chorus all the madness stops, allowing a drumbeat to come to the forefront, before launching back into the vocals "...and if you go to sea again".

There's also a bunch of slower tracks. Heave comes midway through the album, and is reminiscent of older Coldplay stuff at times. The string section on the song is absolutely gorgeous, and the layered vocals are peaceful and relaxing. It does result in a slightly stunning switch at the end as this song leads into the stabbing sound of previously mentioned single Pelican. Also on this list of slow songs is the appropriately titled Slowly One, which is the penultimate track, and is probably the weakest track on here. One of the pitfalls of this album is that it's overly long, and it seems that by the time you reach Slowly One, you're getting a bit bored and feeling it's all been done before. But it's not that great a track in itself unfortunately - it's not particularly memorable, and even the chants of 'little by little' fail to spark much interest, and it doesn't really go anywhere. The last on this list is Forever I've Known, which starts off with a slow drumbeat followed by a slightly screeching guitar. It's a high point of the album with its chorus sparking off emotion in spades, and gradually adds instruments to the fray before it goes huge, then calms right down, then goes mad again. It ends kind of suddenly to make way for the strings of Heave, which doesn't work fantastically - I think it would have been better to let the songs have their separate intros and outros rather than merge them together, but that's just a minor problem.

The remaining two songs are Go and Unknow. The former is another weak point - it seems like they were striving for another epic monster of a track with its programmed beats, which they sort of succeed in, but it's definitely spoilt by the sheer length of the album and the fact that it sounds slightly overdone by this point. It does have a lot of build-up points, either when it's transferring to a chorus or a just introducing a new instrument to the collection, and that part is done fantastically. The other song, Unknow, comes straight after, and features another vocal that doesn't sound at all like the normal Weeks vocal, but at least this one genuinely treads new ground for the band. It's slightly reminiscent of some quieter Lightning Seeds tracks, particularly in the vocal department. The song is fantastically and beautifully layered with a chugging guitar riff running through the whole thing, with female vocals popping up at the end to join the thousands of other vocal tracks running through the background of the song. This one genuinely sends you somewhere else, it's so well done, and it's not really ruined by the album going on for a bit too long.

SUMMARY: The Maccabees try something new and succeed for the most part. I think it's just about ahead of Wall Of Arms, but they're two very different beasts. This is a greater sound which sends you to several different places, compared with Wall Of Arms' slightly more constrained sound (but no less epic). The main pitfall with this album, as mentioned before, is that with an album like this, when things move slightly slower and take time to build up, 13 tracks and 53 minutes is far too long. There are two songs that instantly pop up in my mind that the album could have done without - Go and Slowly One - maybe due to their late placing in their album, but at least Go tries something new. That said, I still love both and don't usually skip them unless I'm on a tight schedule! Maybe the intro and title track, Given To The Wild, could have been shortened to under a minute, as they've done previously (such as the Maida Vale sessions performance of the track). But overall, this is an incredibly strong album that should pave the way for a fantastic fourth one.

FAVOURITE TRACKS: Ayla, Went Away, Unknow

PREVIOUS ALBUMS (as I would rate them now): Colour It In (2.5/5), Wall Of Arms (4/5)

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