Back when Lana Del Rey had dominated the charts for the first time with her album Born to Die, and Tame Impala’s Lonerism – as well as Grimes’ Visions – sailed the Indie charts, The Maccabees released Given to the Wild.
In 2012, indie was changing, broadening its horizons and so were the Maccabees. Before the release of Given to the Wild, Maccabees were known as that homely, romantic band singing about missing childhood and first loves. Maccabees, Bloc Party, and Jamie T lead the indie scene, with the Maccabees and Bloc Party even touring together in 2007.
Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke familiar, yet angelic voice harmonised with Maccabees’ vocalist Orlando Weeks both in the charts and in gigs, Jamie T illustrating London adolescence alongside them. My sister lived her teenage years listening to these bands, a regular at Reading festival during the times they were making it big. So, on rainy train journeys, we’d share headphones, and I quickly became a fan.
The Maccabees formed in 2004. By 2012 they had two well-reviewed albums; Colour It In and Wall of Arms under their belt and were one of the biggest names in indie. They were looking to change their approach to creating music and that’s exactly what they did for Given to the Wild, their third release.
“Given to the Wild is the first time we’ve sounded like we want to on a record,” – Orlando Weeks even said.
Song by Song:
Track 1 – ‘Given to the Wild’
The first track on the album is quite an ominous one, slow guitar fading into bass, followed by Weeks’ distorted ethereal voice. The song ends with the lyric ‘wide awake’ repeated; it’s like waking up in an empty field, and the leaves on the trees rustling, the birds chirping lightly in my ears, and the feeling of the morning air on my fingertips. It also makes me think of children playing in an open space, with no fear of the cold or getting mud under their fingernails. A great introduction to the theme of the album.
Track 2 – ‘Child’
‘Child’ fades in from ‘Given to the Wild’. This song almost feels like a celebration, as if I’m reliving my childhood, a gradual build-up of electric guitar mixed with that slow, calm bass rising into faster drums and guitar, representing growth and the magic of being a child. The lyric ‘so vivid’ echoing, provoking, a nostalgic feeling, so easy to imagine but so hard to grasp as your adult self. The song speeds up at the end like childhood excitement, the steadiness of the bass taking the listener on a journey through self-discovery. ‘Child’ is a perfect introduction to Given to the Wild, it’s as if the album is waking up and following a memory.
Track 3 – ‘Feel to Follow’
This song is full of feeling. With the gradual drum beat at the beginning, sadness leaks through the first part of the song, like the feeling of losing your way. Then when the chorus kicks in, Weeks repeating ‘Feel to follow’, the guitar speeds up, as if the narrator has found his way and running, following his emotions into a frenzy. The song is like an adventure, the guitar and bass are rhythmic as if your senses are rising and leading you throughout. The guitar is inspiring, an introduction to the power the Maccabees hold in their composition.
Track 4 – ‘Ayla’
‘Ayla’ is one of my favourites from the album, the piano at the start reminds me of serene, natural settings, bathing in the summer sun or the light of the moon. The drums are like a heartbeat, hyperactive as if saying to the listener ‘take that leap, keep going, live what is going on around you’.
I have a feeling this song is retelling the story of Icarus, the lyrics speak of ‘Halcyon Skies’ as well as Daedalus, Icarus’ father. There’s an urgency to this song and it’s evident in the lyrics too, repetition of ‘the wait is over’ throughout. Urgent, but also overly curious, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. The end of the song changes tone to a battle scene or tragic event. The drums speed up, the guitar gets higher-pitched, and Week sings a deep ‘Ahhh’; as if to replicate Icarus’ fall. Myth inspired or not, this song is gorgeous and a unique staple of Given to the Wild.
Track 5 – ‘Glimmer’
The guitar glitters through this song. It feels like waking up in the morning and seeing the bright sun coming through the windows. The lyrics always evolve into the line ‘But you’re lost today‘, like an emotive look through nature, confronting feelings of both adventure and feeling as if you don’t belong. Like memories moving through your mind, ‘Glimmer’ slowly moves you through the highs and lows of your life and the struggles of trying to do everything right.
‘Glimmer’ could be a retelling of the story of Narcissus, or at least has reference to the character from Greek mythology. The lyrics ‘When water mirrors for you and all that you look on‘, and the theme of ultimately being lost, but believing nothing could go wrong, like how blind Narcissus was by his ego.
The end of the song resides in positivity, ‘Saw a glimmer of the way beyond, where we helped today‘, showing how the kindness of human nature is ultimately what is remembered. I find ‘Glimmer’ a little repetitive, although I do like how easy and relaxing it is to listen to with the trickling of the bass, and steadiness of the drums.
Track 6 – ‘Forever I’ve Known’
Another one of my favourites from the album, ‘Forever I’ve Known’ is eerie, unlike the previous songs on the album. It has a wonderful build-up, the thumping of low drums in the background, acoustic and bass guitar gently plucked. Orlando Weeks’ fatal voice sang desperately until the drums came in, like the sound of warhorses on a battlefield.
In ‘Forever I’ve Known’ there is fear of loss and inevitability, as well as an overall arching theme of mortality. The last strained lines of the song, ‘Forever I’ve known‘, repeated, like battling fate. An incredibly powerful song about facing the troubles of living and struggling against them.
Track 7 – ‘Heave’
‘Forever I’ve Known’ fades beautifully into the start of ‘Heave’, a slow, heavenly synth at the start. The lyrics sing the power of unity and the relief of knowing everyone around us is struggling with similar problems. In ‘Heave’, synth fades into the most gorgeous guitar riff; the drums, like with most Maccabees songs, fast and melancholic, bass steady in the background. ‘Are we so different‘, echoed by Weeks, a pick me up from ‘Forever I’ve Known’. All of the instruments break into the sound of the organ fading.
Track 8 – ‘Pelican’
‘Pelican’ is the most popular of the four singles released from Given to the Wild. It’s much more upbeat than the other songs in the album, narrating the speed of growing up and finding yourself. This song has a recognisable guitar and vocalist style, much more folky than the rest of the album. It isn’t my favourite song, it just feels like something I’ve heard before, perhaps from Arcade Fire, or Mumford and Sons. I do find myself bopping my head to it, though.
Track 9 – ‘Went Away’
‘Went Away’, although it was a single released from the album, is my least favourite song. The Mumford and Sons vibes are strong on this one; static drums, the lyrics ‘Hold me close, don’t let me go,’. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mumford and Sons as much as the next person, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in Given to the Wild. A song that feels like enjoying life and travelling, and the closeness of people? Get that out of here; bring back the uncertainty of life, thank you. Maccabees went to Two Door Cinema Club here and not Arcade Fire. In my opinion, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album.
Track 10 – ‘Go’
‘Go’ is a unique track. It’s similar to ‘Glimmer’ in the respect that it’s quite a slow-burner. Emotive guitar, complimented by Orlando Weeks’ ever heart-breaking voice, ‘It’s not enough and it never was‘. There’s something very homely about this song, taking my mind back to where it was at the start of the album. ‘In the sunlight there by the window sill in the kitchen,’ this is something I love about the Maccabees, the romanticising of the everyday. Again, in this song they explore memories, the beauty of human relationships, no matter how long they last, the guitar exploding at the end with emotion.
Track 11 – ‘Unknow’
Like ‘Forever I’ve Known’, ‘Unknow’ has an ominous beginning. With a low synth and deep bass guitar, Weeks voice a whisper, ‘Just while love, just while love remembers’. As soon as the electric guitar kicks in and the song becomes more intense, I am instantly reminded of Bloc Party’s famous guitar riff – the layering of the vocals in this song is also very reminiscent of Bloc Party’s style, clearly inspired by their time touring together. The deep bass throughout the song makes it sound deadly, the woman’s voice towards the end is ethereal. Another big, powerful performance from the Maccabees shows just how talented they are instrumentally.
Track 12 – ‘Slowly One’
Now onto my favourite song of the album. ‘Slowly One’ is full of emotion. The whole song is like experiencing loss, Orlando Weeks’ voice shaking with ‘Every small reminder that’s not her‘. The lyrics ‘going cold‘ fade into just the most amazing guitar riff, an emotional outburst at the end. I’ve never been able to get over how good the guitar is at the end of this song. The track breaks your heart and then gives you the space to cry; it’s gorgeous. The guitar almost sounds anxious at the end, desperate to keep going.
Track 13 – ‘Grew Up At Midnight’
This song is nostalgic, credits to the album. It takes me once more back to my childhood. Orlando Weeks sounds like he’s recalling his youngest memories and letting them flurry with the autumn leaves. ‘We would be soaked right through‘ – it’s a very visual song. The bass and drums work in unison to create a celebration at the end, the electric guitar guiding them. The end of this song sounds like Arcade Fire, orchestral and explosive. A great way to end an album, although a bit too jolly to fit the overall theme.
Given to the Wild is an album I always come back to, time and time again. It’s like living an entire lifetime, beginning to end, each song picking you up and dropping you like waves at the seaside. This is one of the most emotive albums I’ve ever listened to, Orlando Weeks’ voice and the band’s composition is something that can’t be ignored when it comes to late 2000s indie.
I’ve read a lot of reviews saying the Maccabees were copycats when they created this record, following closely behind bands like Foals and Arcade Fire. I do see the influence of these bands throughout the album, but saying they’re just stealing other band’s ideas is far from the truth. Orlando Weeks said Given to the Wild has soundtrack quality and I agree with him. A unique soundtrack at that.
The album went to number 4 in the UK charts on release and certified gold with 500,000 sales, the Maccabees’ highest chart performance yet. Their 4th and final album came out 3 years later in 2015, and went straight to number 1 in the charts, followed by the band tragically breaking up in 2016.
This album is something everyone should experience. I go back to songs like ‘Ayla’, ‘Forever I’ve Known’, and ‘Slowly One’ often, and I’m amazed every time at how well orchestrated the songs are. So, take an afternoon to give it a listen, and be reminded of how beautiful the mundane can be.
“It’s not about making the ordinary extraordinary, it’s about saying that there is romance in the every day and the real,” – Orlando Weeks.