I have found the two and only similarities between me and this tremendous band 1) we both struggle to name things before finalising the title I had 5 to pick from, 2) I jump all around in this article in true Everything Everything fashion, luckily for you that is where the similarities end and Everything Everything do not struggle with creating unparalleled art.
Everything Everyhting began ten years ago and have steadily grown a fan base that gladly keeps growing. Though they formed in the one of the most musically important cities in the UK, Manchester, three of the members actually hail from the county of Northumberland, Jonathan Higgs (lead vocals, keyboard and guitar) grew up in Gilsland while Michael Spearman (drums, vocals) and Alex Niven (guitars, vocals, 2007-2009) are from Newbrough. Bass player Jeremy Pritchard is from Kent and met Higgs whilst they were both studying popular music at Salford University, Guernsey native Alex Robertshaw joined after Niven left in 2009.
On the subject of studying music at University in an interview Higgs(as well as Pritchard presumably) goes into how studying the subject has helped in creating/recording music, it has given him the language and knowledge to communicate with his fellow musicians therefore being able to accurately put across ideas. So the music in his head can be made accurately. Furthermore being thrown together with other students from completely different backgrounds, who have different tastes and play other styles opened up his mind in not only how to make music but destroyed the boundaries that ‘define’ what music should sound like. Once I saw this interview it only added to the admiration I feel towards the band. It helps to explain how their complexity, diversity to their sound and chemistry.
The introduction I had to the foursome came by the way of hearing Cough Cough on my student radio somewhere between late first year and early second. It was and still is to this day one of the biggest impressions a band/song has made on me. I needed to find out all I could about this new sonic experience. Quickly scrambling to the nearest computer opening up the system (which organised/complied the music played on the airwaves) I read it was called Cough Cough by Everything Everything from Arc (2013). There have not been many cases of a band creating as high amount of intrigue just from a single, sonic brilliance, odd title and their name. The same word repeated in both cases how peculiar.
Cough Cough is this energetic, rhythmically pulsating, truly alternative track that is also a super hooky complex number. Coughing is incorporated into the music opening up with rhythmic coughs, who does that and makes it sound awesome? No one else I know. Then there is the rest of the song the earworm, ‘Yeah, *Cough Cough* So *Cough Cough*, Um, *Cough Cough*, Wait a Second’ introduction again unorthodox but all the more enticing because of it (I also love the Ahhs). Verses/pre-chorus is a call and response type of segment, ‘I’m Coming Alive (Coming Alive), I’m Happening Now (Happening Now)’ it also helps that t is backed by one of my favourite keyboard lines ever.
Just like NASA is on Your Side off Man Alive, the slower Choice Mountain and Undrowned highlight the reasons to give all their albums a listen as there are these two gems among the many others that inhabit the vast caves to explore. Choice Mountain is so interesting because the metaphors are showing personal vulnerability and fear of taking a risk, ’I’m leaving my ocean home, I’m trying to leave my ocean, though I know nothing of the swamp’ and having a grasp on who you are as a person, ‘Maybe I’m a Lioness, and when I reach the shore I’ll tear apart Hyenas with no thought’, that sense of the unknowing and uncertainty expressed is something we all go through at one point or another this is a more relatable lyrical topic and this song is overall.
Undrowned is built on a slightly twisted carnival sounding organ sound that the other instruments play around then it morphs and fills up to a fuller ending. Here it also shows the more personal, open approach Higgs took to the album’s lyrics as he wanted to go away from, what he thought some reasons people were attracted to the band in the beginning just because they were strange or super intellectual. He wanted more of an emotional connection, Undrowned ends with ‘Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t leave me (To the walls, to the walls, to the west), don’t leave, don’t let me down’, again reiterating the direction the lyrics went in. Furthermore the amount of singing/syllables was largely reduced as Higgs realised that he didn’t shut up on the first album to protect himself. Putting up a wall to deflect the attention away from him so to be more open this had to change.
Then there are the 6 bonus tracks included on the Deluxe Edition, some of which should have been included/swapped to be on the standard release. Higgs and Robertshow themselves have even admitted that some of the slower tracks on the original cut should have been replaced by faster, more energetic songs, whether they meant some of the bonus tracks is not known but it would make sense. One that I agree with is the remix of the final song Don’t Try I like the cut that was on the record, but the remix is superb and should have replaced the album version. This is again reinforced by some of the B-Sides to the singles. A personal favourite of mine is Treasure Set which was the B-Side to the brilliant Kemosabe making it one of the best A/B Side duos of 2013, it is in the vein of a trippy, electronic music that repeats multiple sections/phrases there is a minimalist approach to the lyrics with there being very few besides ‘Found another in a treasure set’ and a female’s voice plainly saying ‘Bring me down’. +Pendolino is the only official instrumental track released to date. It could easily fit into a DJ set in any club portraying more of the electronic influences, in this case Robertshaw’s fandom of Aphex Twin coming through Robertshaw is also on the cover of the single, Duet, the A-Side to +Pendolino.
Now like I did after listening to Arc I jumped back and went to the mind shattering debut Man Alive (2010) that isn’t just me saying that it was critically acclaimed and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2011, which PJ Harvey won for Let England Shake, becoming the only artist to win it twice. So it was a fair loss as PJ Harvey is a legendary artist in her own right. In a recent interview Pritchard said that the first album was great for their career because it was so broad in its musical scope it allowed them to go in whatever direction they wanted. That is the perfect way to describe Man Alive. From the erratic but hooky MY KZ, UR BF (do check out the early demo which is a more R&B take named Airstrike on Your Forehead) to the special gentle Tin (The Manhole) which they performed at the prior mentioned Mercury Prize awards event to highlight that they are able to calm things down and don’t just rely on quick frantic playing/singing. Tin was recorded in a cold, dark terribly lit room which created a cold, intimate memorable listening experience. This breadth in ability in one record is rarely shown nor is it as successfully put together.
The first ever single Suffragette Suffragette put the band on the map with its huge guitar riff of a chorus; yes the riff is the chorus, still not like any other band. Even when Everything Everything does something familiar they put their own spin on it. Pritchard’s bass playing is always on point but the use of the higher end of the four string really pops out as yet another quality you’ll latch onto. Oh plus there is the infamous debated/misheard line of ‘Who’s gunna sit on your Fence when I’m gone? Who’s gunna sit on your fence when I’m not there?’ Or as some argue it is face rather than fence, to clarify it is Fence. Though these lyrics are missing from the booklet included with the CD so that only fuelled the debate. Another single was Schoolin’ when you hear it you can’t help but go back to your school days with the whistle like synth, taking you back to the rarest of summer days when the sun decided to make an appearance. Even if the song is not actually about being in school with Schoolin’ being about the human race across it’s time span and all the things we have learnt or have failed to learn. In the bridge through to the end the bass comes to the front with a melody that is rich, Higgs’ vocals copy the melody I do struggle to recall a band doing that at least not this effective or obviously.
Photoshop Handsome has many merits going for it there is the very retro arcade keyboard joined with the gaining of ‘an extra life, when I get the high score’ one that earns a place at a retro-gaming party (if there has ever been one). In the bridge there is a vocal arrangement where the main line is ‘Come back as something organic, or come back as something else’ but the way that the Higgs, Pritchard and Robertshaw perform their individual takes stands out. Higgs says the whole line, Pritchard/Robertshaw sing the word organic but break it up pronouncing each syllable sort as if it is one word itself. Then there is the perfect marriage to the second video which though not technically created by the band it was their idea and a spark of radiant imagination, film a standard video with the band miming out the track in different stances and positions (arms locked together, holding Higgs across their bodies) then splitting it up in to 2 second clips and send it to 50 or so different animators to do with it what they wanted. The result is mind bending oddball surrealism, but not without purpose as the song is about the modern ability/need to alter ones image via the use of technology so hence Photoshop Handsome. Two for Nero is the song that made me go from I don’t like the sound of a harpsichord to (in this case) it isn’t that unbearable. It is the main instrument (other than Higgs’ voice) playing the same cyclic part for around two or so minutes. Another testament to the quality of the produce it always keeps you listening no matter how much or little there is happening.
On Weights the closer for Man Alive they recorded themselves playing a bunch of metal objects: a ladder, big slab of metal and a van (see here) of course it works, this musical philosophy has been applied through their ongoing career (they recorded a toy crossbow firing a dart across the room past some microphones used in Fortune 500¸a few big cat roars on Distant Past as well).
Get to Heaven (2015) is simply impeccable, from the themes tackled, another shift in style as well as their image, plus it reached more people and grew their audience massively. This was largely because of the conscious effort to make an album that was only composed of upbeat lively recordings, from one of the first studio sessions where they recorded Warm Healer they laid down a marker that everything else would be up tempo and wouldn’t go below Warm Healer. Being men of their word there is no point on Get to Heaven that dips below the point of Warm Healer. Every song has a beat, rhythm, melody an air of danceability. I think that the band where helped in this regard by producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Take That, Kylie Minogue) a change from David Kosten who produced both the previous albums. The elements of pop which have always been in the music of Everything Everything was more obvious on the third album, case and point Distant Past has a huge 90s house keyboard chord progression that helped it to become one of the songs of the summer. Regret was also a big track that took hold of the radio waves with the chanted ‘Regret’ getting lodged in listeners brains, interestingly there was a lot of misreporting about this song as some journalist said that it was about girls going to Syria, the song is centred around a huge theme of the record (and a reason why I hold it in such high regard) what would it take for someone to become a Terrorist? Why do they do it? Quote from the Line of Best Fit Track by Track article (2015) with Higgs, ‘”Regret” is about the importance of the individual, as in one guy’s knife against one guy’s neck becoming global news. The power of that is insane. It’s the most powerful thing you can do on Earth, apart from kill yourself, I suppose’.
These questions are littered all over the album like little clues for you to piece together but one blatant placement is the song Fortune 500 easily one of my favourite songs of all time from the second I heard it because it sounds amazing but the depth the of the lyrics, they not only ask questions but make the listener think, which is something that Higgs is a master at. His approach to writing is to ask the hard, scary questions, go into the darkness of monsters, and look at events from other view points and perspectives. But this is not just him the rest of the band are very interesting and in many interview come across as inquisitive and curious people which comes across in all the albums. Fortune 500 is from the perspective of a person attacking the Queen in her Palace residence, ‘To trepan the Queen and burn the dogs in the hall’, the event that the surrounding songs are reacting to, and the doubt that comes once the attack has been carried out and the hunt to capture the figure begins. Was it worth it? After all lines like, ‘They sing in my ears and make me feel like I’m loved, I don’t want this, I never spoke up enough, Think of the people that I’m doing it for’ along with ‘They said that I should do this for my sons, So is this the lot or should I take out the king?’ show doubt as a recurring theme.
Jumping back to the song before Fortune 500 is The Wheel (Is Turning Now) centred around the charismatic leaders, men in power (which the stunning cover for Get to Heaven by New Zealand artist Andrew Archer reflects), a little on the rise of UKIP, the avenue of thought that Higgs could be drawn in by something extreme if the circumstances align. A breakdown occurs pre-chorus that sticks out to me as the alternate background vocals stab sharply, ’Bone, to the blade, My letter, white feather, no halves, “Dread,” that’s what the devil said, My prison, my prison, my guard’. Then the breakdown leading to the end asks ‘Do you have any Idea?’ and the last line ends with ‘Ideas’ not Idea. A small change that adds so much to the meaning as it goes from do you have any idea what is going on and the effects your actions are having, to do you have any ideas implying there have been none up to this point and all they say is valueless mumbo jumbo. Zero Pharaoh has possibly my favourite vocal delivery of Higgs’ as it shows his lower registers amongst other things. Unlike Arc the extra tracks on the deluxe version of Get to Heaven though good (President Heartbeat and Hapsberg Lippp especially) aren’t worthy of replacing any of the final 11 to make the cut, the construction of Get to Heaven really highlights how track listing can enhance an albums presence.
Album number 4, the tenth year as a band, what to expect after the perfect Get to Heaven? (It seems as though Get to Heaven is my favourite but I do love the entire Everything Everyhting catalogue, I haven’t even gone into their early EPs or songs: Hey Jude Law/Magnetophone/Hiawatha Doomed etc…) Along came A Fever Dream (2017) in a couple of words, a shift. From the global scale to the more personal relations between you and I, how the titanic shifts in the socio-political landscape has affected people. Brexit, Trump, Syria, all the major troubles/problems around the globe are in some way involved there was no way they couldn’t be, being the artists that don’t dodge subjects but meet them head on. It is a charged album but there is a tongue and cheek attitude mixed in. Neither too dire or serious as it may seem ion first listen. Night of the Long Knives is up first my nerves settled instantly after the synth intro and the first airstrike sounding drone I knew it’d be a good listen. Titled in reference to the famous purge of their enemies by the Nazi Party from June 30th to July 2nd, 1934, to strengthen their hold over Germany. It is supposed to draw similarities to the rising of far-right parties like we have seen in recent times in the UK popularity of UKIP, Britain First, English Defence League etc, and white supremacists in the U.S.A. All seems forbidding but Higgs isn’t taking it that seriously, ‘And they say it’s a wave but it feels like a dribbling mouth’.
Can’t Do is loads of fun with its truly infectious ‘Can’t do the thing you want’ refrain acting as the chorus the drumming from Spearman here are top (the best bit for me and Higgs it seems) ‘I’m loving the bass, I’m loving the drums’. It was inspired by the frustration Higgs was having in coming up with the words for the melody that had been put down, writers block isn’t always a bad thing and can lead somewhere. It was an obvious single as well as Desire an arena worthy hit that is huge! Like on album number one a stripped back track caught my attention Put Me Together a song that Robertshaw worked heavily on reworking it many times over under the title Car Wash. A song that points out that we are not all that different from one another though sometimes we are adamant that that person is nothing like me. Sung from the viewpoint of a neighbour peering over the well trimmed hedges that outline the serene suburban Americana home, at all the other neighbours whom are so very different, an enemy that isn’t actually there. From a musical point Spearman gets to show his jazz background as he was encouraged to fill in a space with a load of jazz style drumming, fitting for the album as at times it seems to be rather freeing/spacious to me Put Me Together is beautiful. Blistering Ivory Tower (like Run the Numbers) is a familiar, quick addiction with the epic chorus, a bridge that ingrains itself into your skull and a guitar solo to boot. It really is an exhilarating highlight. On these songs it reminds me of the first album as A Fever Dream is the most guitar heavy record since the debut. They decided to end the rather dark journey on a positive note with White Whale wishing for things to be okay and the message ‘Never tell me we can’t go further’ an inclusionary message of both defiance and hope.
Everything Everything’s musical genius is in the way they apply their knowledge and love of many types of music into the compositions they craft. No boundaries are placed on what they can or want to make because of that they are one of the few musical acts with this rare of a combination of sound, write as interesting/thought provoking lyrics about some of the scariest challenges/problems of modern society on both the macro societal/economic/political and personal scales, live supremacy, sheer ability or style musically, album artwork, onstage image or most importantly strive to always improve. Everything Everything is undoubtedly one of the most bold, matchless bands of the 21st Century has or will ever hear.