Release Date: Jul 31, 2015
Record label: Caroline
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
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.
On last record ‘Given To The Wild’, The Maccabees let themselves run amok like bushfire over a huge, red-earthed expanse. Brushing aside the loved-up rose-tint of debut ‘Colour It In‘ and building dramatically on the teetering complexity of ‘Wall of Arms’, it was a hyper-real album in every way, with lacquered vocal takes piled tightly, and supernatural electronic orchestras at every turn. Setting sail towards their fourth album, with all the limitation-walls kicked in, they had an unexpected predicament.
Almost a decade ago, fresh of face and rambunctious of spirit, The Maccabees burst onto the UK indie scene with ‘Latchmere’, a barnstorming post-punk ode to the charms of a South West London swimming pool and its wave machine. Fast forward nine-and-a-bit years and the quintet are still inspired by life in the big city, but have shifted three miles east in search of inspiration, from leafy Battersea to brutalist Elephant and Castle. Marks to Prove It, like its decade-removed predecessor, is unmistakably the sound of urban life, but unlike their debut the aperture is now thrown fully open.
It was grounding themselves in their local area, London’s fast-changing Elephant & Castle, that gave The Maccabees a direction forward for their fourth album after they became mired in studio hell. And yet, though it’s the Elephant roundabout and not the band that adorns the record sleeve, and the people of south London that are captured in its lyrical vignettes, the title applies to the quintet themselves as much as to an area in turmoil.Elephant & Castle, like much of London, is coming under the strain of gentrification, with expensive housing projects planned and long-term residents being edged out. The Maccabees’ career, meanwhile, has been one of more managed development.
After having their highest-charting album to date in the U.K. with 2012's Top Five and Mercury Prize-nominated Given to the Wild, the Maccabees hit some rough waters in the recording process for their fourth studio long-player, with the bandmembers reporting that they struggled to settle on a production style. They eventually attempted to create a replicable live sound more so than on prior studio albums, particularly the aforementioned cinematic Wild.
Albums that are essentially love letters to London are relatively commonplace, but it’s doubtful any band has written a long player about Elephant & Castle before. The southern end of the Bakerloo Line has been undergoing something of a transformation lately. It is one of London’s less likely property hotspots, the old (but rather striking) tower blocks pulled to the ground to make way for the new dawn.
The fourth album by the south London quintet has a strange, disconcerting intensity about it – a self-destructive energy battling with mawkish introspection. While recent releases from indie’s new guard – Wolf Alice, Peace, Swim Deep – are hippyishly optimistic, the Maccabees, creeping close to 30, seem despondent when faced with the future. As lofty and stoic as Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, with a claustrophobic, concrete-like weight to its sound, Marks to Prove It is indebted to the cold grey city in which it was created – or perhaps the time spent in it drinking to forget: On Dawn Chorus, its subject “swigs a bottle to send him on his way down”; on Spit It Out, “There’s one to wash it down / One to wash it out”; and during Kamakura, singer Orlando Weeks laments, “Drinking when you’re drunken / To chase down the evening”.
The Maccabees had a hell of a time making their fourth album and the Londoners have the marks to prove it. See what they did there? It’s the kind of cheeky British humor that should come with a rimshot upon each reading. Sadly, Marks To Prove It puts all its work into weighty matters instead of incorporating the quintet’s funny bone. Surely, humor is in short supply when holed up in a claustrophobic two-room studio in south London for two-and-half-years.
As The Maccabees return for their fourth studio album, they’re still curiously preoccupied with searching for purpose. This is a strange doubt for a band that is increasingly acquiring Establishment status. Marks To Prove It shows many signs of confidence despite the self-deprecation and is aptly less wild than album three. The South London quintet has often been accused of sheepishness.