Marks to Prove It shows that, even in 2015, Brit indie bands can still cut interesting and surprising recordings.
Wow, who would have thought it? British indie band makes both interesting and imaginative new album, and it’s not Radiohead or Arctic Monkeys shock. In the fragmented musical landscape, this is one to pay attention to.
Maybe we should have seen it coming. The Maccabees’ third album, Given to the Wild, made a serious mark when it was released in 2012. Evocative, tuneful, mysterious, it stamped the London origin quintet as players and merited enough to earn them a Mercury Prize nomination.
Yet Given to the Wild was such a step-up from the Maccabees’ first two albums, you could be forgiven for concluding that it was a weird one-off. But Marks to Prove It, while cut from a slightly different, more intimate cloth, is proof positive that high quality Maccabees’ recordings are increasingly the reality not the exception.
From first to last, this new album is chock full of ideas, and most of all surprise. Take the final track, "Dawn Chorus", which -- bucking the trend for album closers -- starts off downbeat, gears up an octave on to a more hopeful note, ushers in a solo trumpet, and choruses on voices fused together like a host of angels. This is not simplistic and straightforward music, but thrusting and ambitious.
Lead vocalist Orlando Weeks should take plenty of the credit for the identity which the Maccabees are carving out for themselves. On first and maybe second listen, Weeks remains an acquired taste. Warm and human-toned he ain’t; but the more you absorb his voice, the more it feels absolutely right for the Maccabees’ sound: a disembodied and removed voice built to inhabit its chilly and ghostly surroundings. "Kamakura", one of the absolute highlights of Marks to Prove It, is Exhibit A to validate the Maccabees’ capacity for surprise. Starting in a chilled-out groove, it quickly careers off in all directions, fortified by the spookiest of organs. It’s a song about friendship; but the mind’s eye can see the stalactites forming.
"Ribbon Road" starts like something out of Twin Peaks, then hits the most easy-going rhythm, but never quite dispels the sensation that Vincent Price a la "Thriller" is about to turn up on the soundtrack. The following track "Spit It Out" is an epicentre of cold, cloaked in Weeks’ whispering vocal and glass shards of guitar. it hits a beat not far removed from The Cure’s "A Forest" and teeters on a tsunami which never quite breaks. There’s a beguiling piano part insidious all the way through. "Spit It Out" is the album’s tour-de-force.
The Cure comparisons are not made lightly. Given to the Wild carried a more panoramic feel to it, conjuring up mid- to late '80s U2 (the title track does convey something of that landscape, reminiscent of recent Coral). However, Marks to Prove It overall has a certain early 80s atmosphere. Orlando Weeks’s voice conveys nothing like the pomp and majesty of Ian McCulloch in his prime; but his band’s hard-edged splinters of noise do recall prime Bunnymen of ’81 and the U2 that burst on to the scene at that time, dominated by the Edge’s shimmering cascading chords descending.
Above even the fact that they can write songs and forge a distinct personality around them, Marks to Prove It proves that the Maccabees are proper masters of their musicianly craft. This enables them to spring their surprises: the lone trumpet straight out of "Homeland", the piano part from Eric Carmen’s "All By Myself", blasts of brass and mass vocals, spidery guitars scrawling all over their weighty canvas. But despite the noise -- and there’s plenty of it -- this intriguing band retain their cloak of privacy and mystery, that sense that Weeks is murmuring secrets into your ear, and this is their triumph.