Politely clearing their throat, and re-announcing themselves with ‘Cough Cough’, Arc opens with a strange sense of self-awareness. Jonathan Higgs sings, “I’m happening now”, and it feels as if Everything Everything have undergone some sort of transformation, this being the culmination of their metamorphosis. Man Alive was an album of excess; not just because of their commentary on consumerism, the media and the nature of society, but because of the maximalist songwriting that came as a result of letting two Popular Music graduates loose in a recording studio. Arc, with its predominant pseudo-biblical theme of salvation, appears to be the remedy to their previous schizophrenic tendencies.
Aside from the obvious single choice openers ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Kemosabe’, the rest of the album plays out in a distinctly contemplative fashion. Whereas Man Alive presented numerous confusions of genre, Arc is more streamlined in that respect, largely sticking to one idea throughout each song. And even if there are songs that shift sonically, it’s through a logical crescendo like those in ‘Torso of the Week’ and ‘Radiant’, which both wax and wane between verse and chorus with ease.
Despite the more focussed nature, Arc is as instrumentally complex as their debut. Although ostensibly still a guitar-based four piece, Everything Everything have employed a bevy of guest musicians to fulfil their grandiose plans; featuring organs, mandolins, strings, pianos, synths and percussion, Arc is a smorgasbord of auditory treats. The only constant is Higgs’ vocal; his distinctive voice is welcomely more restrained at times, not quite reaching its previous dizzying falsetto heights. But even with this more subtle approach his odd, nasal timbre does grate a little, especially on the serene balladic tracks like ‘The Peaks’.
It’s an album that deserves, nay, requires multiple listens in order to fully appreciate it, but once you unlock it, much like all well composed records, it’ll keep giving and giving. There’s a variety, but also a constance to Arc that Man Alive always threatened to produce. It’s a vital challenge to the mainstream, and a reminder that complex popular music isn’t an oxymoron.
Dance Yrself Clean