When Everything Everything released ‘Cough Cough’ in the summer of last year as a teaser for their upcoming sophomore LP, it was difficult to see how they could build on their acclaimed 2010 debut Man Alive. Could they produce another interesting album using the same formula of quirky melodies and math-rock rhythms without repeating themselves? On the other hand, should they sacrifice those stylistic traits, would they have enough to offer? In the end, the band plumped for somewhere in between. A few layers of their musical collage have been shed in an attempt to be more direct and less polarising, but this doesn’t sound like a drawing board job. In fact, Arc is a more mature and purposeful album, a more rounded whole compared to the sticky-out bits which could at times make Man Alive seem cluttered and clunky.
Arc is undoubtedly less frenetic and scattered than the band’s debut. Gone are many of the jittery staccato rhythms that were the staple of their previous work. In their place are grander, sweeping melodies that provide a graceful quality which smoothes over the rough edges. ‘Duet’ for instance, is one of their most anthemic, rousing songs to date with orchestral strings buffeting its soaring vocal melody through to a big chorus hook. The track continues to build to its explosive climax at which point the whole thing erupts into a freak out of colour, the strings criss-crossing over pounding drums. This is the clearest example of the band’s growing ambition in terms of composition and is larger in scope than anything they’ve attempted before.
Jonathan Higgs’ bizarre vocal melodies remain an integral element in Everything Everything’s sound, but both his subject matter and delivery have been streamlined to achieve an effect with greater precision and potency than before. Lyrically, Higgs is still on the ball, critiquing popular culture most blatantly on ‘Torso of the Week’, a rant over the shallow nature of glossy weeklies, and dropping in references to trending topics left, right and centre. Higgs’ sources of inspiration appear to have changed little, displaying the same sense of confusion and desperation with the world, encapsulating the feeling of bewilderment, of being caught up in a constant flurry of activity, incomprehensible to the individual. Higgs’ sharp tongue remains, but his firmer footing is made clear by his tendency to find the beauty amidst the wreckage. On ‘Armourland’, while the streets are burning around him and society is collapsing (possibly a response to the 2011 riots), he finds solace in being with the person he loves and watching on from the window.
Strong tunes and big hooks abound on Arc despite its greater depth and consideration. ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’ kick the record off, both with gripping chorus lines which quickly become lodged in the mind. Either ‘Radiant’ and ‘Don’t Try’ towards the end of the album could easily be a single, the former’s oriental-tinged guitar riff builds to another big drop while the latter caps the record with another thumping pop hook.
The criticism that most made of Man Alive was that its lack of form and structure resulted in a loose assortment of ideas being thrown together without a cohesive premise. Everything Everything address that issue on Arc by toning down the madness with clearer, bolder and more complete compositions. Essentially however, the band still delights in the very simple process of taking recognisable pop structures and messing about with them. In the style of Metronomy or Micachu & the Shapes, in recent years, they subvert something familiar with off-beat rhythms, quirky embellishments and inventive lyrics while retaining the fundamental essence and power of the song. It is this basic formula that they maintain on Arc which makes their second full-length every bit as colourful and fresh as the first.
Jack is listening to: Young Fathers – Tape One…