26 May 2009

The Maccabees: "Wall of Arms"

With everyday that passes, I get more and more annoyed with labels like indie; I mean what the hell does it mean? Anyone releasing on an independent label, like Fiction, is indie? Or is it the code name for European bands that dominate the festival circuit? But, then, what of American bands with that label? Then is the expectation that all of these bands want to become Billboard sweethearts? And what makes anyone think that every band out there wants to be mainstream, big time, MTV loved musicians? Take the Maccabees, they have the songwriting ingenuity to put forward a bubbly, rock-pop album, and vacate the realm of “indie.” But with their sophomore effort, they stay true to their craftsmanship, composing emotionally heavy, detail-oriented music. If you are going to love this album, and you will, it is not because they are aiming at pop notoriety, but rather you are going to be forced to love their craftsmanship on their own terms.

Though the name of the band, Maccabees, will put some people off, as it is also the title of biblical books, the band in interviews have assured that they are not a Christian Rock band or even religious for that matter. Signed to the resurrected Fiction records, their debut album “Colour It In” (4 May 2007 in the UK) reached the top thirty of the British album charts and established the Maccabees as a solid band in the British music scene. The expectations were that the band would lighten up their sound and produce a chart-buster for their sophomore effort, but true to the tradition of bands on Fiction the Maccabees stuck true to their convictions for the release of “Wall of Arms” (4 May 2009, imports available in the US). It is the stubborn, genuine attitude of true artists: you will accept my music on its terms, not your own.

The album opens with “Love You Better,” the proper lead single (though technically the second song available from the album). The best way to describe this song is post-punk moodiness with a touch of the New Romantics. The song is driving and infectious with its headiness: “Headway, learn to love a thriller so the words you leave on my pillow read better, cheap and forever…” The same kind of straightforward music writing leads you right into the thick of the album. It is with “Young Lions,” the fourth track of the album, that the Maccabees slow down their pace at the opening, but deliver some of their darkest, most surreal lyrics: “Roses in the car, roses in the car, bony saddle, bony street, corrugated iron sheets, this bed is not concrete, this bed in which you sleep flesh is flesh till blood runs cold, and blood is blood, so I am told.” This followed by “No Kind Words,” perhaps my favorite track on the album. Deadpan singing, straightforward, post-punk – the song achieves power in its anxiousness to be louder and faster than it is. This is a style/technique in music that is hard to master, that is to gain power for what is not there but always expected, and the Maccabees do it like pros. (By the way, this was the first track available from the album as download.)

This is one of those albums that have no fillers. From the quirky “William Powers” (“There is love, there is lust, there is love fuelled lust…”) to the broody “Seventeen Hands,” the album delivers strong tracks, though not always radio-friendly, you will find it hard to find a fast forward moment. Avoiding the trappings of virtuoso antics, incorporating stream of consciousness lyrics, the album is the perfect follow-up album to their debut, while giving an audience something a bit different in terms of the rock bands out there. Dark, but not emo-rantings or rehash of the goth sound of the 80s, straightforward, but intricate, the album symbolically collapses on its own emotional weight for the final track. “Bag of Bones” slows the pace down completely, perhaps even hint towards some shoegazing influence on the band, the song creates the perfect atmosphere to sing, “Silent when you’re so or silent nothing more to say, could think of it as showing us the way…”

Cheers for Fiction for releasing this album and allowing the Maccabees full creative range. Then again, Fiction has always been known to be nurturing to their artists. If you were not a Maccabees fan, “Wall of Arms” may change that soon. As solid as an album can be, what amazes me is the feel of maturity and the feeling that this may be vintage. There is no doubt who the Maccabees’ influences are, but you will find it very difficult to point to any song, or any moment on this album, and say that it is derivative of anything else out there. Instead what you have here is solid craftsmanship, artistic integrity, and an a quirky album worth owning.

Track listing:
1. Love You Better
2. One Hand Holding
3. Can You Give It
4. Young Lions
5. No Kind Words
6. Wall of Arms
7. Dinosaurs
8. Kiss and Resolve
9. William Powers
10. Seventeen Hands
11. Bag of Bones

Keep up with the Maccabees at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Here is their video for “No Kind Words” from their Youtube Channel: TheMaccabees

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