On last record ‘Given To The Wild’, The Maccabees let themselves run amok like bushfire over a huge, red-earthed expanse. Brushing aside the loved-up rose-tint of debut ‘Colour It In‘ and building dramatically on the teetering complexity of ‘Wall of Arms’, it was a hyper-real album in every way, with lacquered vocal takes piled tightly, and supernatural electronic orchestras at every turn. Setting sail towards their fourth album, with all the limitation-walls kicked in, they had an unexpected predicament. After all that crazy, hallucinogenic sound craft… well, they’d sort of forgotten what The Maccabees sounded like to start with.
‘Marks To Prove It’ is ‘Given To The Wild’s antithesis in almost every way. Far from dashing off into the land of the surreal, this album’s title is all about leaving physical traces, and tangible dents. That idea is also at the centre of ‘Marks To Prove It’’s sound. They’re reverting back to their original set-up, five band members recording together in one room. Trading out falsetto doubling and re-doubling for a female vocalist, and chucking the computers out of the window, The Maccabees have made an album that sounds touchable, physical.
Tracing a night in the city through snatched fragments of pavement conversations, bar brawls and tannoy announcements, ‘Marks To Prove It’ is darkened and shadowy in every place that their previous album was sun-drenched. Though there are huge, brilliant anthems here in the shape of the title track, and ‘Something Like Happiness,’ the sombre, piano-led introduction of ‘Slow Sun,’ and the paired back intricacy of ‘Pioneering Systems’ are subtle departures. Orlando Weeks’ bare-bones lyrics are, too. “No-one says a word, because it breaks her heart,” Weeks sings simply on ‘Kamakura’; a song that takes its name from a Japanese city the band toured in several years ago. “Break it up and make it better, make it better,” goes ‘Dawn Chorus,’ letting the beautiful arrangement do much of the shaping. By dissecting their sound, and building up brand new textures and approaches, The Maccabees have done just that.
When the sun finally again rises on closer ‘Dawn Chorus,’ and gold, brassy trumpets peal the end notes, ‘Marks To Prove It’ finds its place within the context of The Maccabees’ output so far. This is not a perfectly crafted album; instead, it’s an incredibly human one.