Everything Everything: Re-Animator review – slower, subdued, sublime

Ten years ago, Everything Everything were an anxious art-rock quartet singing about climate collapse and social media’s ills. Ten years later, they’re still an anxious art-rock quartet singing about climate collapse and social media’s ills, albeit with a stronger, deeper focus on writing pop melodies

★★★★☆

Here’s a fact to make your average millennial feel old: the debut album by Everything Everything came out a decade ago. Certainly, Everything Everything have grown old with them. It’s easy to forget they started off writing songs called things like MY KZ, YR BF and Photoshop Handsome. Initially, their sound was jittery and apprehensive, gravely concerned, as is the case with virtually every brainy, art-rock band formed this century, that the world was heading for imminent collapse – predictably, the music video to MY KZ, YR BF featured frontman Jonathan Higgs casually walking past posters warning “The End Is Near” – suited to the attention-deficit-disordered 2010s, socially dismembered by the recession and the beginnings of social-media echo chambers. Although, arguably, in retrospect, their frazzled energy provided the troubled yin to the previous decade’s rowdy yang.

Indeed, they also provided a salve to the dying days of landfill indie, the point when the Fratellis’ regrettably omnipresent hit Chelsea Dagger gave way to their 2013 single Kemosabe, the latter declared by then-Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe his Hottest Record In the World. And now, they’re uniquely, horribly prescient – only this time around you’re not breathlessly catching up with Jonathan Higgs’s lyrics, bolting from his mouth at 190mph like a Mancunian rapper competing for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records under Fastest Vocal Delivery. It’s no surprise to hear him castigating big business’s perpetual, environmentally unsustainable activity on Big Climb – the band’s last two albums Get to Heaven (2015) and A Fever Dream (2017) tackled anti-immigrant hostility, Brexit, terrorism, depression and mortality – but, instead of writing technically impressive if self-consciously neurotic screeds for the anthropocene era clotted with big fancy words, he zeroes in on smart, blackly comic images: it’s only a matter of time before the greenhouse gas-producing billionaire class receive a “champagne cork in your windpipe”.

It’s a marked change from the days when he was writing abstract, absurdist verses about the QWERTY keyboard design, and a long way from their days claiming they’d hit upon their name because of their diverse taste – connecting noughties US R&B, glitchy guitar arpeggios, traditional indie rock, an abiding love of effects pedals and funk basslines – despite their unavoidable debt to and profound fondness for Radiohead, something that continues to surface on Re-Animator: the shapeshifting It Was a Monstering works like a mash-up of the famed miserabilists’ gloomiest hits, from Weird Fishes to There, There to Paranoid Android. Moreover, while the frequent comparisons to Genesis years ago still remain terribly inaccurate, there are still, nonetheless, trademark, distinctly proggy moments: the thundering 80s synths and gated drums that open Planets fall away to reveal a strange, jerky rhythm that pivots and recalibrates every couple of bars; the rhythm to Lord of the Trapdoor has either too few or too many more notes than you expect, impossible to tap your foot to.

But those moments are neither frustrating or clichéd. It’s not just Higgs’s singing that slowed down – his vocals on Black Hyena are delightfully mellifluous – but their deliberately caffeinated sound, too. They’ve employed alt-rock’s hottest producer John Congleton, who’s worked with Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and St Vincent, and the results are often sublime. Taking its time to get to its destination, Moonlight is particularly lovely; the words don’t make much sense, but the bright, richly layered musical backing is so pleasurable, they don’t need to. Lord of the Trapdoor is simply fascinating: it shouldn’t work, what with all the diverting countermelodies, intuition-resistant rhythms and the series of false endings ultimately throwing everything off balance, but the central hook is strong enough to take the conceptual art-rock battering. There are indulgences, however. One doesn’t know what to make of the theory posited by psychologist Julian Jaynes about bicameralism – “the idea that at one stage humans had two separate minds, one inside each half of our brains, and messages or commands would be delivered by one and received by the other”, as Higgs told the NME – underpinning many of the album’s themes.

Evidently, the theory neatly lends itself to Lost Powers’s character study of a conspiracy theorist suffering from what sounds like psychosis (“Don’t let those crisis actor kids get me,” Higgs whines), but it’s difficult to see how it’s influenced everything else, beyond some throwaway references – a great deal of it could’ve ended up on any other Everything Everything album. Additionally, Planets’s opening lines feel overwritten, unsuccessfully searching for levity: “The dance floor is overrunning with frat boys telling me I got no business sitting in business class”. But that’s the only thing about Re-Animator that suggests they’ve stuck solely to what they know best. If anything, the most remarkable thing about it is how often they seem to have placed more attention on the practice of writing irrefutable, if off-kilter pop songs.

Amid all the trippy studio effects, The Actor possesses a rather beautiful tune. Violent Sun, which follows, is perhaps the best song they’ve written, as well the most streamlined: the kind of driving, surging rhythm section that powers your standard Springsteen anthem, the kind of chorus designed to get massed crowds punching the air in arenas without being cynical or manipulative about it, no curveballs or twists. It’s a life-affirming song about seizing the moment, rendered in poetic fragments (“And you realise you don’t know how long, that the river has been sweeping you along”, “You don’t ever have to be … a prisoner of your terror”), proof that Higgs can do restraint when he doesn’t eat a dictionary before recording. On closer inspection, though, it’s a life-affirming song about seizing the moment immediately before the world’s imminent collapse: “I wanna be there when the wild wave comes and we’re swept away,” Higgs yells like it’s an optimistic t-shirt slogan. Some old habits die hard, it seems – to the comfort, perhaps, of those fans who can remember when Everything Everything didn’t sound quite like this.

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