The Manchester art-poppers' third lacks the tunes of 2013's 'Arc', but its quaking sense of dread still impresses
Such is Everything Everything’s career-long resolve to defy classification, Everything Nothing might well have been a better name for them. That is, in a nutshell, what their records usually sound like. Yet while you can always pick out bits and pieces that remind you of this or that, the band they have the most in common with is Sigur Rós: not because they sound like them (they don’t, in the slightest) or because Jonathan Higgs’ falsetto occasionally nudges towards the same implausible register as Jónsi Birgisson’s, but because Everything Everything make music in their own language, using their own syntax. It tends to be conceptual and unapologetically pretentious, gravitating towards big ideas – questions of self, singularity and drone warfare, to name but three – without holding the listener’s hand on the road to comprehension. It’s not that they don’t want to be understood, but that they want to be understood on their own terms.
‘Get To Heaven’ is another album recorded in Everythingese, although it’s arguably the Manchester-based quartet’s most user-friendly to date. Sure, for most of its runtime you can imagine Jonathan Higgs strapped to a chair, eyelids clamped open like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, unable to tear his glazzies away from the horror that unfolds every night on the evening news. In this instance, however, Higgs’ submission to the Ludovico aversion therapy technique results not in associative nausea, but human empathy. Whether it’s teenage girls absconding to Syria to become Isis brides (‘Regret’) or the snake-oil appeal of Nigel Farage to the average Ukip voter (‘The Wheel (Is Turning Now)’), he tries to put himself in the shoes of the people making these inscrutable decisions, to make sense of the senselessness. He’s doomed to failure, of course, but that’s not the point: the third Everything Everything album is about engaging with the horror, instead of simply recoiling from it.
All of which is laudable, but Everything Everything are still in the business of making pop music. ‘Distant Past’ makes that abundantly clear by being the hookiest thing they’ve ever done, although its terrace-rave chorus does leave you wishing that indie bands would disabuse themselves of the notion that ‘90s dance music is still ‘the future’ (then again, perhaps they’re being meta). Much better is the title track, which juxtaposes ebullient Afro-pop with the stark image of an old man self-immolating and whistling like a milkman while he does it, a violent act of protest reduced to a passing distraction in a desensitised world.
The deeply odd ‘No Reptiles’ is the song around which the album’s themes coalesce. “Baby, it’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair” sings Higgs over an unsettling soundscape of frantic whispers and thudding bass piano. Beneath the absurdity, there’s an inescapable truth: we’re all bystanders, but none of us is truly innocent.
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Yet while you have to admire the thought that’s gone into it, you often wonder if they’re over-thinking the music itself. For all its technicality and viscerality, the album never packs the same emotional punch as 2013’s ‘Arc’ and some songs – like the glitchy, overlong ‘Warm Healer’ – never quite seem to find their own centre of gravity. Still, few records released in 2015 will feel as true to the times as this one. Their contemporaries might have long since buried their heads in the sand, but Everything Everything are up to their eyes in dread.
Director: Stuart Price
Release date: 22 Jun, 2015