Friday, September 18, 2020

Everything Everything: Re-Animator REVIEW

It’s taken me a while to work out how to feel about Everything Everything’s latest album Re-animator.

While some might see it as a confusing departure from their last two albums, sonically all the seeds for RE-ANIMATOR are spread throughout both ‘Get to Heaven’ and ‘A Fever Dream’. I think what’s challenged me with the record is the bold combination of esoteric and surreal lyrics with current political commentary and critique. The band isn’t a stranger to politically charged and off the wall writing, but they certainly knock it out the park with this one. You could spend hours sitting down and breaking down Jonathan Higgs’ elaborate and sometimes gruesomely dark imagery, and they certainly beat the shit out of the paddling pool deep lyrics of their contemporaries like the 1975. I guess my only question is if synth heavy art-pop/rock is necessarily the best sound to match Higgs' decidedly ambitious message.

Before we get on to answering that, it’s important to discuss the sound of the album itself. One element that certainly comes through from the bands intention to explore ‘bicameralism’ with the record, is the impressively wiggidy production on some of the tracks. A lot of the deeper cuts on the album and the opening track ‘Lost Powers’ are decidedly psychedelic but on a refreshingly profound level. There’s a lot more in it than a superficial understanding of what sounds ‘weird’ or ‘trippy bro’.

The band have opted for their own take on modern psychedelia, swapping out sludgey guitars and vaguely ethnic drums with tight machine percussion, sometimes Gary Numan esque synth, and some Johnny Greenwood high key arpeggios.

Although speaking of Greenwood, we have to discuss the elephant in the room. It’s impossible to listen to the album without noticing the heavy Radiohead influence. I won’t describe it as derivative, but on tracks like ‘It Was a Monstering’ the vocals are almost distractingly similar to Yorke in delivery and style.

It isn’t really a problem because most people, me included, love Radiohead, but it does link in with my original question of if the instrumentation matches the lyrical tone. Higgs gets genuinely quite surreal and horrific with his lyrics on tracks like ‘Arch Enemy’ and ‘Moonlight’, but unlike with Radiohead, I don’t necessarily know if the production's sound is strange and ethereal enough to match lyrics like:

‘Blubber mount, sewage moon. Jets like wire cut your body. They slice your teats. Calcified and stately cheeks.’

Perhaps this is the point, the juxtaposition between that traditional peppy New British indie sound and the profound psychedelic lyrics, but I would argue that’s perhaps not the case, as a few of the cuts off the album do perfectly merge these two styles together.

A lot of my issues with the band in the past have been with some of the strikingly clean production on some of their songs, and I think it’s no coincidence that the best tracks of RE-ANIMATOR are the most sparse and for lack of a better word, edgy.

Songs like ‘Lord of the Trapdoor’ and ‘The Actor’ are lyrically deep, but also have an equally challenging instrumentation to match. The latter could even be described as poppy, and yet there’s still an element of delivery that keeps with the desperate tone of the lyrics. That being said, while there’s a great deal to commend in the experimentation, even the better tracks occasionally feel like just that, experiments.

Maybe it’s because of the switch over from the usually staccato vocals of Get to Heaven or A Fever Dream, to the more Yorke inspired delivery, which does at times leave you forgetting this is in fact an Everything Everything record.

This leads to the album almost being split in two between minimal tracks where the dark lyricism really shines, or more traditional art-rock numbers where it’s drained out by an amalgam of different influences and experimentation.

There is one song however, that does perfectly marry the bands original and beloved sound, with the new direction they’re trying to break into, and that’s the last single, ‘Violent Sun’. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good tracks off the rest of the record, but the final song is absolutely its highlight.

The lyrics are incredible, keep with the esoteric mission of the band perfectly, and the production is a tight combination of the band's old sound with their new style. Most importantly though, Higgs’ delivery, while trying something new, still retains the now classic style that’s permeated through the latter half of the 2010s with all the band's imitators.

RE-ANIMATOR might not be the band’s best record but it shows a hugely ambitious direction that I’m excited to see followed. The writing is immensely mature, and certainly if you’re in the market for something a little different to break the monotony of floppy haired frontment still stealing from Get to Heaven, then RE-ANIMATOR will come as a breath of fresh air.

- James Charalambides


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