Given to the Wild

A symbolic title for a beautifully simplistic record. Filled with Orlando Weeks’s typically ambiguous and meaningful lyrics the surprise that the latest Maccabees album has to offer is that, despite its depth, the melodies and riffs that drive its lyrical mastery are incredibly straightforward.

The album comprises of 13 tracks including the two minute intro and nearly every one is laced with languorous beats, lyrical repetition and generous helpings of extended intonation; it’s a good thing Orlando doesn’t employ reverb. Many of the end notes are held for unusually long amounts of time – think Ed Sheeran in reverse – which lends a feeling of eerie emphasis to the songs and album respectively. The overall tone is one of intent and purpose; for a writer that says so little, the album says so much.

Glancing at the song words it’s surprising how few and far between they are. It conjures up a reminiscence of Radiohead like tact; think ‘Punch up at a Wedding’, a bold and brazen song which consists of one paragraph of 150 words. Similarly Slowly One, perhaps the most melancholy song on the record in a tossup between Forever I’ve Known consists of 89 words and lasts four minutes eighteen seconds:

In every quiet moment
In every little silence
Every small reminder where you find her
With every left light on
Let alone
Every little loving word said out of love
you cold
Going cold
Little by little I’m laid down
I can go wherever
Still the same
Every small reminder of a name
Any half measures
Any pleasures
Every new encounter that’s not her
Leaves you cold
Little by little I’m laid down
Some day you’re going to wake up
And think you went a day without
Going cold

The album isn’t only lyrically strong however; the evocative riffs and atmospheric backdrop that drive Week’s echoing repetitions are what leave an impression on you; before you listen to it enough times to take the song words into account. Orlando’s soft and uncomplicated vocals interlaced with melodies in such songs as Heave and Glimmer unite in a way that cannot be replicated. The simple guitar and drum beats work in perfect unison with a voice swathed in subtlety and genteel. There is no embellishment, no effects; no technological musical gadgets. It is refreshingly organic.

It’s a far cry from Wall of Arms and Colour It In and looking at the albums chronologically their progression is palpable. Hints of their style to come can be heard in their last, Wall to Arms. The indie quintet seem to have followed in the footsteps of similar bands like Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club. The latter not so long ago having released their third album, which saw the band develop a softness and refrain contrasting to their first record that housed catchy beats and fast tempos. Similarly Foals’ Total Life Forever swapped electro, riff driven style for understated and ethereal tracks like Sahara and Blue Blood. Without drawing direct comparisons, there are similarities there.

There is a fragility and sadness to this album that sets it apart from its predecessors. It possesses the candour of songs such as No Kind Words and the sentimentality of Wall of Arms yet the tenacity of X-Ray and the innocent playfulness of Latchmere have been left behind to make way for a more mature and emotionally engaging sound.

Given to the Wild is soft, yet heavy: it is self assured, yet it is fragile. Pelican is the only truly upbeat song on the entire record, yet this shouldn’t put you off. Initially it might seem like a loss after the whimsical days of About Your Dress – this isn’t the kind of album you’ll be wanting to get ready to on a Saturday night – however for what the Maccabees have lost, in another way they have significantly gained. You have to respect them. They haven’t produced something that they think everybody will like; they haven’t stuck with the same formula. They’ve changed and developed and the results sound pretty good from where I’m sitting.

This is truly a heart-felt record and according to the musicians themselves, the kind of album they’ve always wanted to produce. It isn’t out to impress (though admittedly that’s what all musicians would wish), it is merely sincere. If I had to personify this album, its character would be that of the shy kid at school standing silently and awkwardly besides the wall, thinking hard yet always saying so little. It offers a window into what wallowing hedonists crave; the glimpse into a tortured soul…

Perhaps that sounds like a pretentious load of bullshit, but speaking as a lover of melancholy music, Slowly One has become the soundtrack to my bedtime introversions. I fall asleep to it, just as I’ve fallen asleep to After Glow and How to Disappear Completely before it.

Stand out tracks: Feel to Follow, Forever I’ve Known, Pelican, Unknow

Rating: 4 out of 5

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[photos taken at Bournemouth O2 Academy and Reading Festival ’10]

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4 thoughts on “Given to the Wild

  1. Very nice post. I also see a few similarities with Total Life Forever. I coincidentally was introduced to The Maccabees at the day of the release of Given To The Wild, it didn’t take too long to fall in love with this gorgeous album.

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