You know those retro Nikes, the ones that hark back to the seventies but actually look fresh and have a certain cool about them? Well, I see the Maccabees as their musical equivalent; there are some old school influences bubbling away under the surface yet there is something fresh and confident about them that sets them apart from their contemporaries. I was a big fan of the expansive sound scapes of 2012’s Mercury nominated ‘Given to the Wild’, so I was anxious to hear the follow up, and thankfully, I’m not disappointed.
On ‘Marks to Prove It’ the Maccabees have upped their game, following an extensive US tour with Mumford and Sons and some trials and tribulations in the studio, and have produced a somewhat introspective mature sounding album, reflecting harsh urban landscapes and themes of love, friendship and the challenges of growing older.
Title track, ‘Marks to Prove It’ is a hectic opener with a crunchy guitar sound in a clear cut nod to their Indie kid days, but there is much more depth to the sound and you can hear their development. They actually experiment to great effect throughout; no two songs sound alike and Orlando Weeks varies his vocal delivery to offer another new dimension, as on the atmospheric ‘Kamakura’ and the multi-faceted ‘Spit it Out’ with its tender piano intro and high tempo rocky climax. ‘Silence’ starts out similarly tenderly and is frankly a rather beautiful song – “understand that it never ends / she’s waiting round every corner every bend” – to which ‘River Song’ is quite a brooding contrast of histrionic saxophone.
I love the emotional urgency of Orlando’s voice and it’s evident in the moody bass rich ‘Slow Sun’ and the intense ‘WWI Portraits’; possibly the most accomplished track of the album. As the record progresses so does the sound, with ‘Pioneering Systems’ and ‘Dawn Chorus’ showing the band’s maturity; the latter being especially interesting with melodic guitar lines, thoughtful vocal and even some horns to give it another dimension, not to forget the female backing vocal which helps bring the album to a meandering hypnotic close.
The one track which I find lacking credibility is the second single, ‘Something Like Happiness; it’s kinda jaunty and actually sounds like something the Mumfords might write rather than a Maccabees song – disappointing.
Nevertheless, ‘Marks to Prove It’ showcases a well developed band offering up their most accomplished release to date; I like the fact that they have progressed steadily throughout their career and have put making great music ahead of achieving instant commercial success. For me they embody the philosophy of do what you love and the success will come. Lovely record, listen as a whole.