I have always been a huge admirer of The Maccabees since their 2007 debut ‘Colour It In’. There was something different about them in a sea of identical indie bands that were marauding over the British music scene during that time which had started to reach saturation point. There were two main reasons for this admiration, one was the unique voice of Orlando Weeks who had a choir-boy like purity in his vocal tone. At times he was guilty of over indulging in the “Indie” vocal inflections, but when he let his real voice shine through there was no doubt at all that he had an amazing voice and with ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ he delivered one of my favourite vocal performances of all time. The second reason was the great musicianship of the band. When listening to their debut you could really hear five talented musicians who seemed to be brimming with creativity and musical ideas, but more importantly you could hear the sincerity and the attention to detail that had been paid to the music they were making. Their second album ‘Wall Of Arms’ upped the songwriting quality further and the band were becoming more accomplished in the studio as well as an in demand live act, with a growing fan base who have garnered a reputation for being one of the most passionate in the country.
The band have now returned with their third album ‘Given To The Wild’ and it signals a huge shift in their sound. Not only that, but with 2012 only two weeks old, they have produced what could quite possibly be one of the albums of the year. Gone are the post-punk influences and the staccato guitars, and in come laid back angelic vocal harmonies, chiming guitar lines, and epic arrangements that swell with gorgeous musical intensity. Do not mistake this for the band going soft, as one listen of ‘Given To The Wild’ will show that this is an album overflowing with compelling musical arrangements with a lot of the tracks having distinct musical segments that keep the attention of the listener, and as the album really hits its stride it is impossible to predict where each track is going to go, throwing up musical suprises at every turn, each one a glorious reminder of what a great band The Maccabees are. The band themselves have stated that for the first time they feel like this album best represents who they are as a band and when listening it is hard to disagree. The album feels like it is one large musical piece that has to be enjoyed in its entirety and you can tell that this was the bands intention, to go against the disposable nature of so many albums these days and make something that brings back the true essence of the LP down to the sequencing and how the album flows.
Lead single ‘Pelican’ is musically the closest to what they have done before and releasing this track as the first single was a clever move by the band. It ensured the old fans were happy but it also leaves the listener in no doubt that the band are heading into more epic territory with its rousing “Whooaaa’s” that are scattered throughout the song as it gradually builds up its intensity showing the bands added depth.
The introduction to the album is a 2 minute keyboard intro coupled with Orlando Weeks’ laid back angelic voice that guides you into the first track ‘Child’ that glides along on an engaging bass-line before a soulful horn section arrives to ride on the back of Weeks’ pure vocal delivery. Reverb drenched harmonies then usher in the songs turn of pace as Sam Doyle’s drumming then takes centre stage as the song turns into the equivalent of The Isley Brothers playing dream-pop. This then seamlessly links to ‘Feel to Follow’ that has a jazz-lounge feel with a sparse arrangement before the second half of the song takes off with shimmering guitars that lifts the song skywards. It is at this point the album settles into its stride after a fairly gentle opening. The flurry of piano lines that power ‘Ayla’ along are coupled with horns and industrial flavoured guitars as the song bounces along infectiously.
Throughout the album Weeks’ voice is laid back and shows its effortless quality better than ever before and blends beautifully with brothers Hugo and Felix White’s melodic guitar playing and the euphoric nature of the musical arrangements.
‘Forever I’ve Known’ is cunningly placed as the albums centre piece and is one of the strongest tracks here. A gentle bass line is shrouded by restrained vocals, sweeping guitars, and atmospheric production which then transforms into an electro-dance stomp that sounds like something The Strokes would come up with if they suddenly developed an obsession for Depeche Mode. Where a lot of the albums strengths lie is with the band knowing when to reign these epic sounding songs in. It would have been very easy for the band to build these songs up even further and throw the kitchen sink at the production, but they manage to perfectly judge when to round the songs off making you ache for more in the process.
The absolutely stunning ‘Heave’ rides in on a wave of synths and twinkling guitars before the delicate vocal harmonies soar into one of the most beautifully crafted arrangements on the album as the band sing “Are we so different?” in unison, giving way to a Foals-esque tempo powered along by a fluid bass line that sees the song out.
‘Went Away’ is a jaunty slice of indie-pop with an addictive descending guitar line that surrounds itself with urgent drums and Weeks’ voice at the forefront of proceedings. This is immediately followed by the atmospheric ‘Go’ and the thunderous ‘Unknown’ that marries the dreamy and ethereal tone of the rest of the album with frantic, industrial guitars backed by a solid indie-disco beat and angelic vocals. The final minute of the song is an absolute joy.
With this album The Maccabees have set their stall out as one of the finest indie bands in the country right now. For all the atmospheric production and the huge cavernous sound that this album employs at times, you can still hear the five normal guys inside, for the first time making the music they truly believe in. It is evident that a huge amount of time and effort went into recording this album and the results range from the sublime to the majestic. Not only that but with ‘Given To The Wild’ they have managed to carve out a completely unique, individual sound that is entirely their own that starts a brand new chapter in this bands career. Without doubt one of the most engaging and finest records you are likely to hear this year.