Monday, 14 January 2013

Everything Everything - Arc


Though I'd like to begin this write-up by noting that it's a good time to be a Mancunian with a keen interest in creating music, I'd willingly be able to counteract that statement by proclaiming the Northern city both has always been known as a hot-spot for talent, and that it's not the be-all end-all of this country's output. You don't need me to cite names like some mad-dash glorification - be it those you will say in different lights as the commercial, the obvious, the talented or perhaps to your own, the most under-rated - to show there's no doubting this specific corner of the UK continues to pour more and more into the British music scene, and in some cases, manages to make its way across the globe in multitudes of sounds, ideas and objectives. Everything Everything then, fall into that category of post-noughties, currently tennies (can you call it that?) bands that, while may fit into a particular corner of musical society, are just as likely to shift a degree to the left and experiment, you'd think their sudden urge to excite and deliver means their origin is of definite Manchester. Surprisingly, the four-piece are as far from the North-West as you can get. Their debut 'Man Alive' not only toyed with the idea of toying us with some concreted sound, but also presented the four-piece as a complete one-eighty on what those of you might project as your atypical Manchester band: humble, slightly nerdish, and a bit introvert that it's actually quite sweet. While I'm quick to remind this is no personality profiling, it's still relevant given that the band's follow-up, 'Arc' is as much about the band's personas as musicians, as much as it is the music's own experimental nature in contemporary pop and collected indie aesthetics.
 
'Yeh...so...ummm, wait a second...' lead vocallist Jonathan Higgs begins Cough Cough, the album's opener, giving light to the band's sincere and charming shyness, which then escalates from a solitary mutter to a booming of harmonized band vocals amid all the tampering percussion and title-track onomatopoeia. But the track's real essence is not Higgs' approaching upbeat lyricism, nor even its rampantly glittered 80s synthesizers that run amok as if in auto-pilot. The track truly comes to light when its chorus swings into place, vocals utterly glowing with tone as synths and picks of guitar add further layers of sheen. Even amidst all this youthful exploration and quick-paced tension, there's still something of a collectivist nature and understanding in the band's method of progression, and I find myself eager for the track to continue despite it falling under that structural category of verse/chorus/verse/chorus. There's never anything wrong with this manner of song structure, but given how tried, tested and rehashed it often is, it's garnered something of a reputation of running the risk of coming across stale. But it's that energy that I'm compelled by, and on Kemosabe too, the hints of Bloc Party I get from the way the guitars and vocals mesh, only increases the hope and optimism for this kind of structure to work successfully. The instrumentation is a lot more compact and deep-rooted, but that doesn't take away from the vocal's rich and textures. You'll find your attention flickering in and out of the synthesizer blips that carry on throughout, but that doesn't take away from how varied and passionate the guitar work and percussion feels when it really matters.

Above all, Higgs' vocals are what many will find themselves attracted too. Torso of the Week takes a less celebratory and crazed notion, but it doesn't degrade the music's overall sense of projection. Guitars flicker from erratic plucks to high-fret picks, and eventually to electric chords that lace themselves in the mix. Percussion too switches between off-shoots of 2-step mannered hits, higher-noted strikes and then back to more conventional drumbeats. And while the variety and switch does come across on paper a little desperate and confusing, it's the vocals once more that act like the cross-road for everything to feed through and meet. Even when the band mix things up - guitars favored over synths; synths favored over guitars; classical instruments favored over both, there's no loss of direction or intention to carry a song forward. Even if we were to take vocals out of the equation, there's still an unprecedented level of understanding and awareness about the music's construction. Even if the vocals repeatedly utter the realization, 'But I don't know what's real, and what's going on/And I don't want to be here when the sky is gone.' Duet, in all its lush violin strings and viola passages, has such a positivity and sense of confidence about it, the sounds themselves don't feel dominating or over-used for the sake of variety. Percussion still provides momentum and rhythm while the occasional strum of guitars gives enough of a scope for listener's to feel a sense of connectivity with the music.

Those of you who prefer more acoustic and rock-centred sounds will definitely find Feet For Hands more understandable in that remark. Strumming is a lot more rowdier and direct; guitars having more of a far-flung edge and tension to them, but again, refusing to go too far into simple extroversion for the sake of it. Percussion comes across as something of a pillar for the track to lean against, drum work breaking up the passage of guitars and repeated synthetics that gain and lose their clarity throughout. It doesn't necessarily hold as much means of emotive output as previous tracks, but it still holds true to the band's methodology of connectivity with their sounds, and the vocals lose none of these such attributes. But for those who love more experimentation and even more loosening of what may be an established sound will cherish a track like Armourland which begins immediately like some glitchy 90s pop record. But the palette of sounds that emanate from it; hollow drum hits, broken cymbal crashes, ends of electronic drops, looping vocal churns, it creates something of a formulaic, and admittedly, catchy lead to what is something of an electronic-influenced composition. Choruses again share that same opening-out unveiling, both musically and lyrically, like previous - 'I wanna take you home/Take off your blind-fold and show you what I am.', but the arrhythmic drop of beats and choppiness of sound still keeps that organic-synthetic synergy not only going, but continually tense amid the song's humanly open modesty.

The House Is Dust may feel like one of the shorter-lasting moments on the album - even if the track is, like many of its counterparts, running safely in the three/four minute mark - but its shift from gradual progression to something of an anxious delivery, and then suddenly to what is a solitary piano-led outro makes for something of a memorable, but ultimately, unexpected deliverance. It does come as a surprise to find the track suddenly halt itself when the lone piano begins, and given how they build the track up beforehand, it's probably one of the poorer and lesser effective choices the band have decided on here. But these said poorer choices are few and far between. Straight after, Radiant, has such a glazed use of vocals and tone that it almost, quite gladly, white-washes any idea of a weaker ending to this record. The track laces itself in star-strung passages of guitars and hidden streams of synthesizers that humbly glow in the backdrop. With the album's final track Don't Try, the band certainly want the experience to end on a high, both conceptually as well as contextually. The lyrics come across honest and open, suggesting despite all its cautious expression a sense of understanding and acceptance. Lyrics lay locked in this tiny pocket of tonal delivery, but soon climb up and out into this widened sprawl of guitar delivery and rolling drum beats that create a yin-yang unison about the music, between the humble honesty and the energetic ambition in its chorus-like sections.

It's been a while since I've listened to an album start-to-finish and, even through the minor lows, still come out of it with a sense of high appreciation and heightening belief that the band both understand and are more than capable to express music in all its emotional and tonal scale alike. 'Arc' is an album that works to both contrasting strengths, and it comes across well in Everything's knack to open out to a wider spectrum of contemporary music, both organic and synthetic alike. And fueled by their youthful energy and honest personalities as musicians, the result is one that provides enough of a variety in ideas, but so too expresses a sense of matured understanding in what gels and how to place such sounds in their music. There's as much positivity to celebrate these sounds, as much as there is a need to listen over these tracks simply for their ability to excite and elevate. And moments such as these where music needs another going over - and another, and another, and another - without much indulgent analysis, is what makes an album stand-out as a solid collective of songs, throughout. Despite all the connotations of experimentalism and the numerous three/four-piece bands that aim to excite as much as they want to be taken seriously as song-writers, it's pleasing to see a band such as this that tick both boxes and, in the end, give the impression (despite all success and praise) that even after this, we still haven't seen the best of them yet.
~Jordan

8.4

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