In The Guardian’s review of The Maccabees‘ third LP ‘Given to the Wild‘, Alex Petridis entertained a peculiar notion; that despite the simmering success that The Maccabees have had over the past five years, they remain somewhat anonymous and faceless amongst their more outspoken peers in the modern indie landscape.
But perhaps it is for that exact reason that ‘Given to the Wild’ sounds so pleasantly surprising and virtuous upon first impression. It is a wistful and polarising treat from a band who sound as if they are now fully prepared to flourish upon their ambitious agenda, breaking free from the crowded indie threshold to make an impact in their own right – as the talented and sophisticated songwriters that they always promised to be.
The self-proclaimed epic ‘Intro’ exercises significant effort in its attempt to lay down the album’s decidedly panoramic foundation. Not the greatest introduction to an otherwise strong collection of songs, it fails to capitalise on the strong promise it instils into the listener. ‘Child’ instigates a welcome change of pacehowever loose and unfettered the melodies may seem.
But it’s ‘Feel to Follow’ that really shifts the album into a higher gear. Starting off like something off Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows‘, it rises and rises upon its sombre piano template into a yearning and searching climax where vocalist Orlando Weeks chillingly bares his soul for all to see. In exploding upon the formula initiated on the opening two tracks, ‘Feel to Follow’ reveals The Maccabees at their peak. They should do this more often.
The bleak hollow chorus of ‘Ayla’ follows; Weeks’ eerie vocal providing for a peculiar contrast against the quasi-dance piano off that characterises the song. Such a marriage of styles displays the group’s accomplished skill at variety and self-invention. The Bon Iver influenced ‘Glimmer’ and the whispering parlance of ‘Forever I’ve Known’ follow on similar ground, executing dynamic ascension and wide soundscapes, albeit with frequent nods to a formula perfected by Coldplay.
In doing so, the arrangement and structure can come across as repetitive in places, with the quiet intro-loud finish method becoming the trademark for nearly every track on the album. Another weak point for the band is the difficulty for the listener to differentiate between melodies and entire songs under the narrow contour of Orlando Weeks’ vocal register.
But as the album cruises out of its midway dip, such observations become less apparent. Take ‘Went Away’ for example; a gentle wonder that showcases Weeks’ talented vocal palette more than any other track. Elsewhere, ‘Unknow’ weaves in and out of its heavenly template with a brooding bass track and yet another stellar vocal turn from Weeks.
‘Given to the Wild’ is far from perfect, sometimes the ideas are too much, are unfinished and are crushed under the weight of the album’s ambitious agenda. Perhaps a tad too long as well – it is unlikely anyone would protest if ‘Slowly One’ or ‘Heave’ were dropped from the tracklisting. But in striving for perfection it comes across as a wholesome and pleasant listening experience. You get the sense the band clearly enjoy what they are doing, something that is no surprise when you consider their success in instrumental experimentation; truly a wonder to behold.
‘Given to the Wild’ is The Maccabees most accomplished work of art yet, but only time will tell if it is enough to hoist the band onto a new level of public appreciation.