As Faris Badwan put it earlier this year after [a]The Horrors[/a]’ freakish foray onto the Radio 1 A-list and the Top Five of the albums chart, “you don’t have to compromise to connect with people”. Like [a]The Horrors[/a], [a]The Maccabees[/a] hovered on a cusp with their third album. Both bands won hearts with their 2007 debuts, and critical respect as Britain’s very best bands with their 2009 follow-ups. And like [a]The Horrors[/a], by taking control of their own sound and pushing themselves further than ever beyond the comfortable this time round, [a]The Maccabees[/a] have made an album so astounding that you feel it can’t help but draw the wider world to them. It’s the record that could be not only their ‘Skying’, but their ‘The Suburbs’; one that sees them become deservedly huge without losing what they’re about. That said, if it’s ultimately used to pave Chinese motorways, it’ll be no less of a triumph.
Working with DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy, the band have brought in new electronic elements and cast aside their usual jam-based method of writing in favour of devolving power, each member of the group devising sections and emailing them back and forth. It had the potential to be a disaster, losing their essence to new ideas in an attempt to branch out. The sun-parched savannah on the Andy Goldsworthy-designed sleeve of ‘Given To The Wild’, where hungry flames advance towards a lonely, egg-shaped kiln illustrates the dangerous, exciting possibilities. The wildfire can be destructive, but it’s also purifying and fertile – by casting themselves to the flames, [a]The Maccabees[/a] have forged an identity more purely them than ever.
For all the new ground and new sounds, ‘Given To The Wild’ is a remarkably restrained album. Restrained, but not reserved – there are tidal swells of feeling, but always kept reined in until just the right moment. Guided in by soft, ambient swathes, ‘Child’ floats deliciously on liquid guitar and a slow, cradling bass, establishing this as a subtler record than ‘Wall Of Arms’, Orlando’s voice a whispery, watercolour thing, Felix and Hugo’s guitars rippling and glimmering. When the album cuts loose, though, it really cuts loose, as on ‘Feel To Follow’ where Orlando’s tentative, treated vocal and bare drums tremble on the brink of something huge, some unnamed emotional epiphany. “How will I ever dare to breathe?” he wonders, guitar lines fluttering around him before catching him up and soaring off intoa brave sci-fi dawn. The standout, ‘Forever I’ve Known’, casts a moodier shadow amid all the light and beauty. Orlando tries to convince a lover to paper over the cracks, his voice wavering brokenly over keening guitar and ominous bass as he pleads “Couldn’t you just lie/I’m a child to your voice and I know nothing stays forever… you know that I’ll make it easy” as the song builds into a painful sweetness before the floor is suddenly pulled away and it drops into the furious, frustrated eruption of a serrated riff. As often on this record, it walks the same canyoned, mountainous territory as stadium bands like [a]Coldplay[/a], [a]Kings Of Leon[/a], or more aptly, [a]Arcade Fire[/a] – it’s never overreaching or overdone.
‘Pelican’ punches brightly and skippily out of the softly rolling ‘Heave’, the band careering around on the Great Cycle Of Life as Orlando crows “before you know it pushing up the daisies”. ‘We Grew Up At Midnight’ closes things neatly with a valedictory chorus of sweet nostalgia.
The album is beautifully structured, leading from spare and shimmery beginnings into harder, weirder and more varied territories, all those snippets and elements and personalities crafted into a shifting, subtle whole that quietly captures your attention from start to end. It’s an entrancing adventure – to see a band we’ve loved from the start grasp their potential and reach so far is inspiring by itself. That the call of their wild is so beautiful makes it all the sweeter.