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The Maccabees

Neo-angular kinetic indie-rock was all the rage since the arrival of GANG OF FOUR-cloned combos MAXIMO PARK, BLOC PARTY and The FUTUREHEADS emerged post-millennium. But were another quick-fire, slick-staccato group from England gonna make a difference? – you betcha! The ever-evolving MACCABEES from south London have since become fest faves with a thriving fanbase that has stood steadfast from their salad days as an indie act in the mid-00s to a chart-topping album act ten years on.
A necessary injection to modern-day rock’n’roll since forming for rehearsals in 2004, singer Orlando Weeks, guitarist brothers Hugo and Felix White, bassist Rupert Jarvis and drummer Robert Dylan Thomas came up with their moniker thumbing the Bible for ideas; the non-religious/atheist-type band stuck with The MACCABEES title despite some flak from certain sections of the community. Handing to fans of their early gigs in August ’04, an EP entitled “You Make Noise, I Make Sandwiches” (`Sore Throat’ the highlight), the quintet self-financed for Promise Records their first slice of 7-inch with the jangling `X-Ray’, toward the end of 2005. Fierce Panda Records – the stamping ground for many an indie-arena act; COLDPLAY, anyone? – surfaced the following spring with their “swimming pool wave machine song”, `Latchmere’, a track that endeared them to Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq.
Polydor-backed Fiction Records were highly impressed by their YouTube video and signed them on the spot. With a major record deal behind them, sales figures rose for a run of three singles, `Precious Time’, `First Love’ (#40), `About Your Dress’ (#33) and a re-issued `Precious Time’ (#49), which made up for the fact The MACCABEES would lose initial American sales on their leaked debut set via the New York Times website. Unveiled officially in May 2007 from their new Brighton base, the Stephen Street-produced COLOUR IT IN {*8} ranked high among the likes of the NME and, in turn, brightened up the Top 30. Collating all their important hits up to now, animated singer Orlando – the next-best thing to Johnny Borrell, then! – the final piece of the jigsaw was modest hit, `Toothpaste Kisses’ (as advertised for the Samsung SGH-G800 mobile phone/camera).
Sounding something akin to a meeting of RAZORLIGHT and ARCADE FIRE (produced as it was by Markus Dravs in Liverpool and Paris), The MACCABEES returned to the fore in spring 2009 with a sophomore set, WALL OF ARMS {*7}; Sam Doyle in place of Thomas. Borrowing an atmospheric ebb and flow harmony from their aforesaid peers, the Top 20 record opened with modest hit, `Love You Better’, although by the galloping `Can You Give It’ (also a 7-inch single), the hyperactive `Seventeen Hands’ and the brassy `Dinosaurs’, the mind-set was that Win Butler and Co could verse-and-chorus so much more effectively. An interesting tie-up with ROOTS MANUVA for an exclusive 12”, `Empty Vessels’ (released February 2010, a re-working of `No Kind Words’), drowned in its own sea of transient trip tranquillity, while also included as a bonus track was a deep-fried take of the CYNDI LAUPER cut, `I Drove All Night’.
The addition of brother Will White on keyboards and samples (as sixth member), bolstered an altogether horizontal and restrained feel to the band’s third set, GIVEN TO THE WILD (2012) {*8}. A subsequent nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize, the Top 5 record – produced by Tim Goldsworthy and Bruno Ellingham, and, in turn, Jag Jago at his rehearsal space in Elephant and Castle, London – Orlando and Co tread tentatively over ground that floated like COLDPLAY, TALK TALK and, of course, ARCADE FIRE. Gone were the angular rhythms of a half decade ago, in came the sentimental and textural `Forever I’ve Known’, `Child’ and the piano-addled `Ayla’; only the classy touches of the single `Pelican’ sliced and diced the rhythms and cut the deepest.
Returning to Elephant and Castle to record their fourth set, The MACCABEES long-awaited MARKS TO PROVE IT (2015) {*9} ran against the grain of their previous sets, showing more emotion and oomph by way of the title track opener and dynamic follow-on piece `Kamakura’. Stripping away some of the nuances dogging them for over a decade, this was the record that made Orlando stand out from the pack as a fine falsetto chanter, and with the far-reaching indie-rock greats `Spit It Out’ (a little Bunnymen-like in its “What are we doing now?” chorus line) and `Something Like Happiness’), The MACCABEES inflicted the wounds upon themselves in order to find the lovelorn and disenfranchised around a weary world. They’d certainly the marks to prove it, and the latter two gemstones deserved a chance at the singles charts having been aired to complement the odd BBC television promo.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2015

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