BBC Radio 1 plays, among chart-topping dance anthems, a fair deal of significantly different stuff. That is how I discovered Everything Everything - somewhere between David Guetta and Taylor Swift, there was a chanting of “cough, cough”, accentuated by a strong drum beat and an eccentric bassline, and things like that just catch my ear immediately. When Cough Cough, the first single of Everything Everything’s sophomore album Arc, had my curiosity, then the next one, Kemosabe, had my full-blown attention.
Everything Everything is a bit of a niche band - I don't think there is any middle ground with the Manchester quartet. You either love it or hate it. The singer Jonathan Higgs’ near-constant falsetto is a huge deciding factor in that. Much of the instrumental in their songs is driven by drums, courtesy of Michael Spearman, and sometimes rather unbelievable bass lines by Jeremy Pritchard. Guitars, played by Alex Robertshaw and Higgs, are technically an accompanying instrument, as are keyboards; both are mostly used to create melodies instead of a strong chord base.
Compared to their debut album, Man Alive, Arc is definitely more mature. Man Alive is often claimed to be an overblown showcase of all of their talents, insanely nonsensical lyrics and slightly crammed instruments cited as the biggest issues. In that respect, Arc is definitely calmer, more calculated and a little bit less quirky. Arc gives the listener more singalong moments, whereas the songs on the previous album were mostly too fast-paced to even try chanting along to them in a large crowd.
Arc is kicked off by Cough Cough, the album’s first slap-in-the-face single. The strong beats and the rhythmic repetition of the title, first in words and then in the percussion, makes you sit up a little straighter. The synth in the prechorus has a slightly oriental sound that appears a few more times on Arc, but in general, this is rock - rock with a blistering bass line.
Kemosabe is a little bit calmer than the previous one, but definitely quirkier. The discordant synth throughout the verses is unsettling, especially because it is the only instrument next to the drums for the first part. The synth continues to the chorus, now sounding like actual harmonies, only to go back to ear-screeching major seconds in the next verse. Kemosabe is a fine example of Higgs’ voice - almost the entire song is sung in falsetto. This one most resembles the vibe of Man Alive - the lyrics take quite a few listens to make any sense of.
The next song, Torso of the Week, sounds a little bit empty after the beautiful musical mess of Kemosabe, which, in this case, is actually a good thing. The bass and drums are the backbone of this song; as described above, the guitars only provide little ditties to its instrumental. The theme of the song is quite clearly struggling with body image - the very first line of the song is “girl, you’ve been hitting that treadmill like a freak”, and similar allusions are made throughout the song.
Duet turns the intensity down another notch and starts off with a cello, no less, accompanying Higgs. This is the first song that actually has a calm vibe; the strings definitely help with that. After two minutes and 30 seconds of relative calm, the song starts to build, reaches its cymbal-and-strings-led climax nearly a minute later and then suddenly ends. Higgs himself has said that Duet was initially inspired by The Beatles’ brilliant Eleanor Rigby, but got out of control pretty quickly. However, they do seem to be similar at the core - not only because of the string arrangement, but also the morose vibe both songs have.
Choice Mountain dives right back into the world of punctuated rhythm and uncertain, discordant instrumental. Higgs sounds almost vulnerable with a slightly shaky voice here and there. The chorus is a bit calmer as the nervous melody of the verses disappears for a little while, even though the riff of the intro still echoes through it. The bridge which gets rid of drums and still sounds rhythmic is another notable aspect of the song.
Feet For Hands is possibly the most rocky song on the album, starting off with a guitar intro and sticking to a chord-driven instrumental throughout the verses. There is an urgency in Feet For Hands, probably brought on by the nervous rhythm of the bass and drums. Between all the falsetto, it’s actually kind of refreshing to hear Higgs sing the bridge in a lower register.
Undrowned starts with a beautiful, slightly eerie synth melody which would fit nicely into a Tim Burton film, and Higgs harmonising with it, not singing over it. This makes the song feel calmer, almost lullaby-like - at least until the whole band kicks in. Even then, however, Undrowned sounds a lot calmer than the rest of the album. It is followed by _Arc_ which brings back the strings. As it is only a 90-second interlude, it doesn’t quite go anywhere - it feels more like soundscape than an actual song. It further calms the album down for a while, serving as a breathing space.
After that, however, Armourland slams right back into the former feel of the record. The back vocals of the verses, again exploiting the discordant harmonies, increase that sensation. The choruses, however, differ from the verses in that sense, and give a mental image of space and width - more so than any other fast-paced, rhythmic song on the album.
The sudden calm of The House Is Dust is a little bit unexpected after Armourland. For a minute and a half, it’s just vocals and slow drums - and even after the 90 second mark, it (luckily) doesn’t grow into an anthem. Less than a minute later, only the vocals and a few piano chords are left and the song slowly drifts into silence. It sounds even more morose and hopeless than other slower songs of Arc, kind of continuing the slightly depressed feel of Undrowned.
The main riff of Radiant sounds almost oriental. That leaves some kind of an impression of calmness on the listener, despite the verse’s instrumental sounding quite jumpy at times. During the choruses, the song explodes and reaches almost rock-song level, only to pull back in the beginning of the next verse. The last 30 seconds, almost-but-not-quite a cappella, lead nicely into the penultimate song, The Peaks. Coming closest to being called a ballad, it builds up slowly, and the instrumental only makes it past the piano and slow drums 3 minutes in. Once again, Higgs’ falsetto really shines in this one. With its beautiful, calm ending, The Peaks sounds like a perfect last track… but it isn’t.
Don’t Try, while a brilliant piece of music, seems out of place after The Peaks’ culmination. It returns once again to the urgent rhythm of the first two tracks and seems a bit overly energetic for a last song, especially after something so calm. However, it seems to be a light at the end of the long dark, nervous and morose tunnel of Everything Everything’s sophomore album, lifting the listener’s spirits a little bit before letting them back into the real world.
There is an urgency in Arc, maybe even a discomfort with the surrounding. The album’s title is explained to describe the suggested journey of humankind, and currently, we are right at the top of the arc, about to fall back down. The desolate feeling seems almost post-apocalyptic at times, or, at the least, it appears to be a warning. Arc is definitely not background music - not only is it way too jittery to listen to while cooking dinner, but it also needs some concentration to fully appreciate.