Manchester math-poppers move towards the mainstream on this second album.
Paul Lester 2013
There used to be talk of “that difficult second album” for British indie bands, but a more recent syndrome has been the follow-up to the tentative debut that signals an artistic and commercial breakthrough.
Everything Everything have returned with an album that finds them calming down their madly jerky math-pop in a considered bid for the mainstream, one designed to capitalise on the top 20 success of their 2010 debut – and Mercury Prize nominee – Man Alive.
Singer-guitarist and principal songwriter Jonathan Higgs has been described Arc as a simpler distillation of his ideas and a more direct expression of his feelings, which tended to come across before in unstoppable torrents.
There are songs here that comprise bite-size fragments of multifarious melodies, drawing on myriad influences. But there are also tracks that sustain one tune and tempo over the duration, where previously only three or four would do.
Of course, all things are relative: there are still occasions when Everything Everything sound like a riot in a melody factory. And they still sound furiously intelligent, like Manchester’s anti-Oasis. If Alt-J and Django Django marked the victory of brainy indie boys over rock lads in 2012, it was Everything Everything who blazed a trail for them.
Arc appears to have been assembled by pop professors familiar with algorithms – or should that be all-go rhythms? Higgs is more likely to sing about Geiger counters and Richter scales than he is cigarettes and alcohol. First single Cough Cough is science fiction dance music, less funky than jerky, like a prog version of RnB: think Timbaland if he cocked an oblique ear to Yes.
Producer David Kosten gives everything a bright, clean sound, all the better to hear Higgs employing that opinion-splitting falsetto of his as he wails about “genuflecting in a penitent way”, as he does on Kemosabe, or alluding to the Falklands and the Balkans as he does on Undrowned. It’s no clearer what Higgs is singing about, but he at least makes you want to sing along.
And you can imagine this working live – the riffs and choruses, when the band settles on them, are hooky enough to become crowd-pleasers. They haven’t quite decided on a mood: The Peaks is slow and sepulchral, while Don’t Try has the angular punch of Peter Gabriel at his best. But they're moving in the right direction. Their third album should be massive.