Album Review: Everything Everything – Arc
A significant number of people – critics and everyday listeners alike – seem to be quite fond of likening hardened indie group Everything Everything to Radiohead. It’s a comparison which has only increased in regularity since the arrival of Arc, the Manchester-based four-piece’s second album. True, both bands are known for tinkering with the particulars of what rock music is capable of, and yes, an argument could be made over the notion that Arc shares musical and thematic DNA with the likes of OK Computer and In Rainbows. For fresh evidence, check out the piano coda of new song ‘The House Is Dust’, or the smooth production gloss which graces much of what’s on offer here.
However, for me personally, in Everything Everything, I find a closer resemblance to Bloc Party. Here we have another modern British group working to expand the musical template of the indie genre, similarly concerned with the state of modern life (and all the dislocation it engenders), and fronted by a singer prone to high-pitched fits of yelping. (If only for levity’s sake, I’d like to paraphrase my sister here, who likened Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs’ voice to that of a turkey.) To take these similarities further, Arc is cut from the same cloth as Silent Alarm: a jittery, panicked construct whose authors have taken a glimpse of what the future holds. And they’ve decided that they don’t like the look of it all one bit.
It’s difficult to generalise Arc in terms of theme, given Higgs’ taste for eclectic lyrical leaps, but by and large, he’s become stricken with future terror. What kind of state is our society in, and for that matter, what state will our children find themselves born into? Cello-cradled ballad ‘Duet’ sets a precedent for the album as a whole, as Higgs is found genuinely helpless, crying “I don’t want my children in an endless race!” Much of Arc is racked with worry and riddled with guilt, backed by colourful arrangements which can be as brooding as they are intoxicating.
It roars out of the stocks with the furiously strong one-two punch of ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’. The bruising thump of the former drops the listener nicely into the latter: one of the album’s highlights with its yelpy energy, sounds of shattering glass and its slashes of grinding guitar. Through both cuts, it’s clear that Higgs is still a man on the edge: fidgety, fearful, yet also a very wry observer. Clearly, his bizarre, dry sense of humour and chaotic imagery have carried over from the itchiness of 2010’s Man Alive. The band themselves have tightened their sound, while also maintaining their inventive spark. Michael Spearman’s headspinning drum patterns have become something of a driving force, able to mould the shapes and moods of the tunes they accompany.
Yet for all its intrigue, it must be said that this particular Arc is slightly inverted: it does sag in its midsection. Not for any particularly weak songcraft, but simply for the fact that several tracks don’t quite maintain the oomph of the opening and closing stretches of the album. After such a fiery opening salvo, Arc becomes a little too fixated with mid-tempo numbers, and it’s not until the stunning apex of ‘Radiant’ that the album receives a much-needed shot in the arm. And indeed, while their left-field envelope-pushing is something to be cherished, there are moments when coherence does seem to suffer. ‘Choice Mountain’, for instance, does flower at its climax, but it doesn’t quite piece itself together convincingly, with Higgs’ animal-based musings a little too barmy to fully resonate. Compare it to ‘Torso Of The Week’, which is forged from what sounds like about six disparate segments. By all logic, it should be groaning under its own mishmashed weight, but somehow it makes its own warped sense, with each of its components neatly gelling to form a strange – and pretty bloody good – compound.
Thankfully, the group do have a good handle on quality control, and for my money, the worst that can be levelled at Arc is that some songs aren’t as interesting as others. Everything Everything remain fascinating figures with their strange alchemies: ‘Undrowned’ features a near-stream-of-consciousness drone over queasy ribbons of guitar, while ‘Armourland”s stop-start jitter peels away to reveal a blissed-out chorus of falsetto crooning.
But it’s when the group strip away all the intricacies that Arc properly finds its heartbeat. ‘The Peaks’ achieves a transcendant poignancy with little more than a soft lead piano and Higgs’ most powerful vocal yet. “I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born,” he croaks, genuinely sounding as if there are tears streaming from his sunken eyes. The album could easily have ended here, with its most devastating (and arguably, its best) composition, but instead, the team deliver the ultimate curveball, capping everything off with ‘Don’t Try’: possibly the catchiest song they’ve yet recorded. Its effervescent swell ends Arc on something of a bittersweet note, and while it’s hard to assess it in light of the twelve previous songs, it’s a rousing, beautiful article in itself, and sure to lodge itself in your brain for days afterwards.
So, where do Everything Everything find themselves in Arc‘s wake? Still slightly distant: their bravura complexities are still more fascinating than they are affecting. But they are opening themselves up; becoming more emotionally direct with each step they take. Arc isn’t quite a masterstroke, but it definitely proves that Everything Everything are capable of realising one yet. For now, we have a terrific and frequently touching sophomore record, and one which proves that these guys are here to stay.
“If it’s gonna happen let it happen now!”