Album Review: The Maccabees – Given to the Wild

[Fiction; 2012]

Ignore those words you’ve probably read about how The Maccabees are living up to their billing as the “British Arcade Fire” on third album, Given to the Wild. It’s not that the comparisons are tiresome by now, it’s just that labeling them as such does a great to disservice to the music and the hard work the band have put into crafting this fine album. If anything, Given to the Wild is where The Maccabees became, well, The Maccabees.

2009’s Wall Of Arms was a dark and gloomy affair. Furthermore, the band sounded like they were trying too hard to get to a place they couldn’t quite reach, and there was a feeling of disconnect between band, music and listener because of that – something wasn’t quite right and that tarnished Wall Of Arms. Given to the Wild goes a long way to repairing that faulty trait by immersing the listener completely, be that through guitars that absolutely glimmer in places, vocals that are often warm, soft and never obtrusive, and synths that sweep majestically but never at the expense of something else. Every sound, every word and every instrument is welcoming and not too in-your-face. The less in-your-face an album is, the better chance the listener has to focus on a certain instrument or a certain sound, and before you know it, you’ve lost yourself in that album.

It’s not as if everything on Given to the Wild is completely docile though. Throughout the album The Maccabees appear to have learned, and at some times mastered, the ability to kick a song into a different gear without making that change sound forced in the slightest. This doesn’t just mean getting faster and louder though, at times the band bring things to a delicate halt before building up steam again. “Feel To Follow” plays around with dynamics, teasing the listener by getting faster and louder from the get-go, then applying the brakes until everything is hardly louder than a whisper before building the song up again to a sort-of middle ground. “Ayla” introduces itself as a piece of indie-rock vaguely inspired by industrial music, that almost suddenly loses its inhibitions towards the end, and changes into something far more intense. The change is only short, but that makes it even more thrilling. “Child” takes its slow beginnings from the U2-inspired titular intro, but as the song progresses, more and more sounds are incorporated and given prominence, until the song is bursting at the seams and transforms into a mad, bustling cacophony.

Even lead single “Pelican,” which should be the most musically safe song on Given to the Wild, doesn’t escape this process. It may deceptively sound like your typical British indie tune at the start, but that’s before the band take you on a ride through three distinct and unique choruses. The first is a drop; everything gives way to Orlando Weeks’ slight vocals and a dreamy, ethereal soundscape. The second is bursting with energy, that energy being provided by a staccato synth pattern, while the third sees everything firing on all cylinders.

The thing with Given to the Wild that stops it from being one of the all-time greats is it always sounds like The Maccabees getting to the head of a pack, rather than starting off on their own path. Regardless, it’s their breakthrough album and shows that with focus and confidence, the future could be pretty exciting for The Maccabees.