If you try to explain Everything Everything on paper, their slow-but-sure rise to becoming one of the country’s biggest art-pop bands (who finished their last tour by selling out London’s cavernous, 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace) seems perplexing. Perhaps only alt-J can claim to have become a bigger band over the past 10 years while being as fundamentally weird as the Manchester four-piece.
Ever since their early singles ‘MY KZ UR BF’ and ‘Photoshop Handsome’ arrived at the start of the decade, followed on second album ‘Arc’ by ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’, the group became owners of a handful of unlikely festival anthems. Their erratic, bizarre pop songs tapped into a confusing but satisfying sweet spot; you couldn’t quite understand how it worked, or what actual words you were trying to sing at the front of a sweaty festival tent – but it’s always a lot fun.
The band then took a surprisingly big leap forwards on 2015’s ‘Get To Heaven’, with the likes of ‘Distant Past’, ‘Spring / Summer / Winter / Dread’ and ‘No Reptiles’ becoming instant fan favourites, and the former rarely leaving the Radio 1 playlist across an entire summer. This time, they’d twisted their oddball concoctions into even bigger pop hits, which was furthered on their last album, 2017’s ‘A Fever Dream’. While not quite hitting the airwaves in the same way as ‘Get To Heaven’, its glorious, soaring title track and the paranoid ‘Ivory Tower’ brought more moments of euphoria for the subsequent arena tours.
At once, ‘A Fever Dream’ felt like both a logical next step for the band – as well as something of a full stop. New album ‘Re-Animator’ confirms the latter. The new album has been billed as a ‘back to basics’ record, but when your first steps were as crazed and convoluted as Everything Everything’s, it’s all relative.
Guitarist Alex Robertshaw has said that in writing the album, the band pondered, “‘How would Neil Young write?’, rather than, ‘What’s this crazy drumbeat?'”, and while the band’s weirdness will always filter through, this newfound purity is clear to see. As soon as the album opens with the warm, bright guitar of ‘Lost Powers’, the idea of a comprehensive new chapter being opened for the band is hard to ignore.
Influences on Everything Everything’s music have always been hard to trace, and this perceived lack of clear reference points proved one of the reasons they have become such a confusing and delicious prospect. On ‘Re-Animator’, their lineage comes across more strongly. ‘It Was A Monstering’ feels heavily tied to latter-day Radiohead, with frontman Jonathan Higgs letting go of the sharp, angry side of his voice, instead channelling his inner Thom Yorke and letting his melodies float away. It’s also strikingly evident on ‘Moonlight’, which would feel perfectly at home on the band’s delicate 2016 album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. ‘The Actor’, meanwhile, takes surprising cues from chillwave, recalling the floatiness of Toro Y Moi and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
“We wanted to let beauty in and make an honest, sincere, clear-thinking sound,” Higgs said of the new album, adding that the band have “deliberately obfuscated that kind of stuff in the past”. There are a handful of songs here, though, that feel stuck in something of a lost middle ground, not fully committed to the band’s new aim for stark beauty, or diving headfirst into the maximalism of old.
As such, ‘Lord Of The Trapdoor’ and ‘Black Hyena’ reach neither of these polar peaks, and pass by with little note. This straddling does work on ‘Arch Enemy’, though, which recalls St. Vincent‘s horn-assisted strut ‘Digital Witness’ and succeeds on the strength of its songwriting alone.
If ‘Re-Animator’ felt like it was lacking the kind of knockout blow that Everything Everything have provided on every album, they saved it until last. Recent single and album closer ‘Violent Sun’ is the biggest revelation here. You could mistake its opening seconds for The Boss’ ‘Dancing In The Dark’, or its propulsive surge of drums and synths for New Order. It’s the first time you feel like Everything Everything have deliberately tried to make a song big enough to fill the rooms they’ll undoubtedly (eventually) play to with this album.
Any cynicism at such a move – the band have called it both “the biggest song we’ve ever written” and a track that “doesn’t sound like us” – quickly dissipates due to its unashamed hugeness, and how much has evidently been poured into it. It’s hard to deny the band the chance to write a song that would ignite any encore on Earth through straightforward power alone, and one that makes us beg for live music to return.
Release date: September 11
Release label: Infinity Industries/AWAL