Throughout the Maccabees’ career, even from the early stages, lead vocalist Orlando Weeks would often find the time to speak about The National and how he wanted his band to wear the influence of the Brooklyn-based critical darlings. In ‘Wall Of Arms’, the Brighton band’s second record, the introduction of a rousing horn section seemed like a crass attempt to draw a line between the two groups. Weeks himself would often repeat lyrics over and over, as if he was channeling the deep baritone of Matt Berninger. Yet a fact that’s come to light is that rather than simply wishing to replicate The National’s sound, what Weeks and co. admire most in the band is their ability to build both a grander sonic palette, whilst possessing a knack for writing stunning albums, as their career has progressed. The horn section in ‘Wall of Arms’; this was a means of progression, not some half-hearted ploy of trying to come across as more ‘mature’. The Maccabees, far from being lumbered with a burgeoning indie rock scene anymore, are desperate to expand and to prove their songwriting talent.
Almost too desperate, in some ways. ‘Given To The Wild’, the Brighton band’s third record, consists of 13 songs, amounting to 53 minutes. Every inch and dust and each individual exhalation has gone into this album. It’s undoubtedly the record’s biggest downfall - cut it short to 10 tracks and we’d have a contender for album of the year, already - but again we can draw a parallel to The National: Their breakthrough release came in the form of ‘Alligator’, a no holds-barred attempt to win every available fan over. Similarly, it consisted of 13 tracks. It showcased every variance of ability that it was capable of. It needed to convince people that here was a band with serious intentions. And it succeeded. Similarly, though ‘Given To The Wild’ teeters on the brink of becoming too bulky an object, it remains a thoroughly persuasive document, testifying The Maccabees’ claim of being an expert, progressive band.
There’s a formula to the songwriting: Gentle build-up, followed by the arrival of reverb-ed guitars, all amounting to a grand, bolshy, in your face crescendo. At least two thirds of the songs here are defined by such a routine. ‘Child’ reminds you of Foals’ ‘Total Life Forever’ in its huge arrangements and big use of atmosphere and ‘Go’’s chorus is of such giant proportions that it screams out to be played in arenas. We’re given rare glimpses to the band’s past with ‘Pelican’, a song loaded with spiky guitars and chantable choruses; ‘Forever I’ve Known’ is similarly capable of sending teenage gig-goers into a frenzy. For the rest of the album, the above formula is referred to constantly. Orlando Weeks’ voice is more timid than ever; always on the brink of falsetto. He begins each song at the very front - on ‘Feel to Follow’, his voice has never sounded more exposed - but by the end of each track, he’s a mere cog in the expensive machine as guitars surge forward and thrashing drums send each the song into climax.
The cacophonous nature of the record is by no means suitable for the faint-hearted. Upon initial listens, you often find yourself lost in the towering arrangements. But the band are careful to balance out hearty culminations with more delicate refrains. The opening minute of each track is very much like the moment in a gig when a song stops, you cease jumping and you attempt to catch your breath. Breathing space is necessary to digest such an overwhelmingly ambitious album. But ambition is ‘Given To The Wild’’s strongest asset. Like previous offerings, it’s another wealthy reminder of the Maccabees’ promise. Not the finished article, but as close as the (still) youthful band are likely to come at this stage.
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