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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Album Review: The Maccabees – Given To The Wild

Label: Fiction Records
Released: 09th January

The big breakthrough that only just misses the mark but is easy to get lost in.

With Given To The Wild already a big hit and talk of a Mercury nomination a dead cert, it's probably superfluous to review The Maccabees' third album as anything other than them reaching their potential with a true crossover masterpiece. The only problem is that the album doesn't quite reach the lofty heights for which it aims. And although very good, and occasionally wonderful, it's not up to the standard that The Maccabees set on 2009's Wall Of Arms.

Still, with the expansive pallet and windswept sonic vistas it's entirely likely that Given To The Wild is 'a grower' and that come the end of 2012 this review will seem unecessarily harsh and presumptuous. But one of the great strengths of The Maccabees previous material has been it's ability to grab the ear and make you pay attention. Orlando Weeks' fragile voice still managed to cut right to the centre and their instrumental swells had real emotional pull. The nearest this album has to a 'First Love', 'Love You Better' or 'Dinosaurs' is by far single 'Pelican'.

But what a single it is. Drums that announce themselves strongly before leaving huge spaces in the sound. Vocal harmonies that are tighter than a Tory purse and enough textures swirling around to make your head spin. But with an album that's as impeccably structured and crafted as Given To The Wild it needs more than just the one stand out moment. The whole movement needs to enthral. In the first half the only track that really can be said to stick in the mind after the first half-dozen listens is the elegant 'Ayla'.

Luckily on the second side The Maccabees really get fired up. 'Pelican' stands back to back with 'Went Away' as the album builds up layers and textures, ramping up the excitement and engaging the listener more. With it's superb guitar work that's at once epic and jittery 'Go' is an album highlight. More worth pointing to however is 'Unknown' likely to be forever known as the moment where they throw caution to the wind and allow themselves to turn into a euphoric dance outfit. Weeks' vocal gives way to a female lead whilst the rhythm section play some drum and bass. Somehow this still sounds like The Maccabess though, such is the bracing build across this side of the record.

The more subdued closing pair of 'Slowly One' and 'Grew Up At Midnight' end the album nicely (with the former seeing the band do their best British Sea Power impression). It's a warm and immersive finale that you feel more of the opening numbers could have done with. If all of this sounds harsh then I apologise, for it's not meant to. Given To The Wild is still a record to get lost in, and as such is easily the British equivalent of Real Estate's Days. Smooth, elegant and tender it's a display of ability, ambition and emotion.

Like The Horrors, Wild Beasts and Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees have developed into a modern 'indie' sound that's completely opposed to the compressed electro-rap of the pop charts. That's it's finally paying off for them on their third album (as it has for the other three) means that it's easy to see all four acts as part of the NME alternative mainstream, which is a shame as The Maccabees have previously been so much more.

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2 comments:

Matt said...

I like your review. For me though it's an incredible album but it did take more listens than usual for sure. Really hope you give it a chance and get to enjoy it as much as I do. Can't wait to see them in Bristol.

Kyle Xanders said...

I think "Given to the Wild" is the Maccabees best album so far. I have to agree with you that Orlando Weeks' fragile voice still managed to cut right to the centre and their instrumental swells had real emotional pull.

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