The Maccabees understand dynamics, always have and seemingly always will. Lyrics, tunes and ideas, also not a problem.
From the simplest of conceits they can conjure beauty, literally stopping you in your tracks. Songs like ‘No Kind Words‘ are simply majestic, while alternately they can be beautiful and twee; ‘Toothpaste Kisses‘ for instance all hazy, early morning Magnetic Zeros at their most saccharine. Then turning again, hammering home a point – ‘Latchmere‘ and ‘Love You Better‘ hit hard and fast with humour and passion laced throughout.
Unquestionably, they are a band at the peak of their powers, still exploring and pushing at what can be achieved. Yet with this brilliance there was always a slight feeling of disparity. The previous albums, all brilliant, were more a wonderful collection of songs than a cohesive whole or vision.
With ‘Marks To Prove It‘ this feeling ends. It’s certainly a cohesive whole; tone, mood, songs and intensity all come together across every track. It’s a culmination. An end result.
This is set out plainly from the opening salvo, the title track bringing a bigger, brasher sound than what we’ve come to expect. Their sonic pallet has expanded again with a larger, more panoramic feel even to the rockiest moments on the record. Throughout the record in fact, beautiful, expansive production lends The Maccabees a gravity and intensity of the kind they’ve never had before. Not that the passion and power of the music has increased, just that a way has been discovered to give their playing its own distinct character, its own part in telling the story. The instruments are no longer there merely to play a tune, they’re almost a member of the band.
‘River Song‘ is breathless and unnerving, like being chased through the woods in slow motion; terrifying, yet somehow intoxicating, while ‘Silence‘ feels like stark Eno/Berlin-era David Bowie covering ‘Two Weeks‘ by Grizzly Bear – as odd and discomforting as this sounds and just as sublime.
It’s this unsettling juxtaposition that marks the album out as a true step forward. The songs are as beautiful, insightful, clever as they ever were, but now they come with a little something extra, like a sprinkling of musical hot sauce just to punch them up. ‘Ribbon Road‘ is dark and brooding, but also has that wonderfully familiar, upbeat chug of tracks like ‘Can You Give It‘, irresistible and inevitable for a Maccabees record – almost their own Bo Diddley beat you might say. ‘Spit It Out‘ has Arcade Fire’s, well, fire which, when pitted against the hazy and wistful shimmer of ‘Kamakura‘, is a wonderful dichotomy. One a moment of absolute feeling, the other merely a half remembered emotion.
The standout moments come as a pair. ‘Something Like Happiness‘ is more than anything else here reminiscent of their earlier records, but comes with a maturity, a slight darkness and an unshakable brilliance that is all ‘Marks To Prove It’s own. This is followed by the brilliant rage and fury, the shifting and jagged beauty of ‘WW1 Portraits‘. It hits hard, very hard indeed.
If it wasn’t apparent before, this record affirms The Maccabees’ brilliance, but also cements their individuality. There are hints of this, whisps of that, suggestions of some things half remembered. In reality it’s The Maccabees and nothing else. They have spent the last decade carving out their very own particular place in music history, and this album seals it. No concessions are made, The Maccabees are true to their sound, their style, their music and their fans, once again.
It’s this intense self-belief and confidence which really makes ‘Marks To Prove It’ so exciting.