Man Alive by Everything Everything | CD review

(Geffen)

You can imagine all four of Everything Everything being told repeatedly not to fidget as children. Manchester-based, but hailing from realms as far apart as Newcastle and Kent, Everything Everything are one of those squirming, convoluted art-pop bands that Britain's churning cultural centrifuge throws out every so often – like Foals, or north-eastern arrhythmiacs Field Music, or Friendly Fires. With blokeish indie rock in recession, erudite boys with fringes are enjoying their moment in the sun. If XTC – the spiritual progenitors of so many of these bands – had a penny for every mannered vocal that has been sung to mathematical funk rhythms this last decade, they would be on picking-up-tab terms with Croesus.

Like their fellow travellers, Everything Everything scorn the obvious. Why play four-four when your rhythm section could try to emulate the sound of a marching band skating on quicksand? Singer Jonathan Higgs is the north-easterner trying to cram as many syllables into a line as a rapper, while sounding like a choirboy eating a dictionary. And then there are the massed falsetto harmonies cascading around him, a vocal style of choice for young men so evolved, they don't need to flaunt their secondary sexual characteristics.

That said, Everything Everything have become notorious for asking "Who's gonna sit on your face when I'm not there?" on their early single "Suffragette Suffragette" (officially, it's "the fence"). What is so unexpectedly delightful about their long-awaited debut album Man Alive is how base this notionally highfalutin band can be.

They operate simultaneously on several registers. "MY KZ YR BF" deploys references to Faraday cages (they block electromagnetic interference) but the song seems to be about being caught in flagrante delicto. "I wonder what happened to your boyfriend," sputters Higgs, "cos he was looking at me 'like woah'." "Two for Nero" is a standout harpsichord ditty that finds Everything Everything "crouched round the Game Gear/ Like Sega never died."

Even better, Everything Everything have greedily absorbed the production values of mainstream R&B. This album's opening triptych of superior songs belies extended exposure to precision-tooled sex-music. The terrific "Schoolin" remains their most delicious offering, with its flirty keyboard whistle and irresistible sense of pace.

Everything Everything's subversion of R&B is really far more clever than all the foursome's other melodic twists and feints – a powerful undertow that could have ultimately bracketed them with bands like the xx. Disappointingly, Man Alive jacks its body less and less as the album moves on.

The band are at their least successful when conforming to angular, try-hard type on tracks like "Come Alive Diana". Token controversial reference? Drummer falling down stairs? Soft rock chorus? Check. But they do simplify beautifully.

"Leave the Engine Room" is one of a handful of iridescent, calmer tracks where Higgs hangs around on a lyric. "And if all the boys say you did it/ And all the girls say you did it/ Then man, you're as guilty as the ones that came before," he croons. People might be drawn to Everything Everything for their refusal to sound obvious, but they will stay for this band's mastery of the basics: grooves and feeling.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Everything Everything – review
A low-key gig belies the intricacy of Everything Everything's music and the dynamic falsetto of singer Jonathan Higgs, writes Killian Fox

Killian Fox

14, May, 2011 @11:05 PM

Everything Everything: Arc – review
Everything Everything's second album finds their intelligence and appeal undimmed, writes Phil Mongredien

Phil Mongredien

13, Jan, 2013 @12:03 AM

Article image
Everything Everything: A Fever Dream review – infectious and affecting
(Sony RCA)

Phil Mongredien

20, Aug, 2017 @7:04 AM

Article image
Everything Everything: Get to Heaven review – a Radiohead you can dance to
The quartet’s third album is bursting with ideas and fights shy of easy pigeonholing

Phil Mongredien

21, Jun, 2015 @7:00 AM

Everything Everything: Man Alive | CD review

The Mancunians fill their debut album with ideas – in fact, reckons, Maddy Costa, too many of them for the music's good

Maddy Costa

26, Aug, 2010 @10:00 PM

Article image
Jonathan Higgs: ‘I don’t want to become another foghorn in the mist’
The Everything Everything singer talks about mental health, his love of cats and being nominated for the Mercury prize

Kathryn Bromwich

01, Sep, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
Everything Everything | Pop review

Scala, London
The Manchester-based group Everything Everything play a jittery, funky art-rock concoction that demands sharp performances from all four members, writes Caroline Sullivan

Caroline Sullivan

10, Oct, 2010 @8:46 PM

Article image
Everything Everything – review

The math-rock maestros mix cred and cringe in influences from Radiohead to Coldplay, and are finessing their sound to future arenas already

Mark Beaumont

24, Oct, 2012 @2:48 PM

Article image
New band of the day – No 552: Everything Everything

These brainiac bopmeisters cram art pop and prog rock into the same songs – so they probably won't appeal to Ramones fans

Paul Lester

21, May, 2009 @11:49 AM

Jessie J: Alive – review
Jessie J's back with a palatable set that doesn't make the most of her fine voice, writes Phil Mongredien

Phil Mongredien

21, Sep, 2013 @11:05 PM