Album Review: The Maccabees – Marks to Prove It

By on Friday, 31st July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

The Maccabees Marks to Prove It album coverFollowing their 3-year long absence from the music scene, the first song the Maccabees offered up to the public was their new fourth album’s title track single in mid-May, ahead of summer music festival season. ‘Marks to Prove It’, with a memorable guitar hook and a rhythm destined to incite field pogoing, is exactly how I remembered ‘Pelican’ from their last album. This frenetic, high energy number, accompanied by a promo video showing the frantic pace of living and working in London, is very different to ‘Something Like Happiness’; the new LP’s second single, which will be released on the same day as the LP. It’s laden down with horns and has moments reminiscent of ’70s style Spector-ising. This matches right up to how the group’s frontman Orlando Weeks described the new release to Gigwise as it has “a ‘really nice mix’ of all the members’ different styles” and he feels more confident than ever to sing on this new material.

After having listened to the album all the way through a few times, I’m finding little that stirs the senses as well as its title track. The feeling I’m getting is similar to what I felt for Maximo Park‘s album last year, ‘Too Much Information’: there are bright spots for sure, but most of the tunes lack immediacy or catchiness and don’t grab you. It seems false advertising to have released as your first taster a song that isn’t at all representative of the album as a whole. Feedback and effects are a hallmark of this album, even on a more introspective turn like ‘Silence’. An almost jazzy piano presentation frames the regretful lyrics of a man who chooses to stop communication altogether, thinking it’s easier if he shuts out those he loves: “I understand that it never ends / she’s waiting round every corner, round every bend / when you’re scared or lost, don’t let it all build up / break the silence.” On ‘River Song’, the pace is still one that lurches rather than speeds along, the guitars wailing before turning strident, drowning out both Weeks and any backing vocals. Maybe that was the point, that the instrumentation and voices were to become one? For sure, it’s less melodic than the psychedelic leanings of ‘Ayla’ from their last album, the 2012 Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Give to the Wild’.

When the tempo speeds up as on ‘Spit It Out’, the closest the London band get to the pop magic of ‘Marks to Prove It’, they choose interesting note progressions on both the guitars and vocals that cause the song to sound chaotic. That is, until you pass the halfway point and things start to make sense. I see what you did there, Maccabees. You have to give them credit for doing something unexpected and different. This continues as they approach both the loud and the soft on the same song, which can be jarring if you’re not expecting it. Second track ‘Kamakura’ has gentle verses that are punctuated by Weeks’ yelling, “giving a bloody nose to the best friend he knows / the only time he’s cried since he was 7 years old / your best friends forgive you, your best friends forgive you / you get old” before the outro practically whispers the song out. On the other extreme, ‘Dawn Chorus’ is a dreamy number in which the horn guy (or gal) comes back in as if to wake you up from a trance.

You’ll enjoy the gentle slow-burning quality of standout ‘Slow Sun’, its masterful guitar throughout, a lonesome horn player in the distance calling you home, its piano notes adding a shimmering complement to Weeks’ voice, as he shows his admiration for a woman who has stuck it out through thick and thin: “no-one else knows it / the lengths that she goes to / to keep it together / that’s real enough.” While the rolling beats and soothing high-hats of ‘Ribbon Road’ and the dreamy ‘Pioneering Systems’ are pleasant enough, does pleasant and inoffensive cut it these days?

7/10

‘Marks to Prove It’, the Maccabees’ fourth album, is out today on Fiction Records in the UK and Communion Records in North America.

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