Birdsong, beasts, and blood. What’s the tea here – Samhain sampler? One votive mask shy of a bacchanalian breakfast left by some scampish vinedresser the day after Dionysia? Close, on both counts. Just a small triad of the recurrent themes whipping like miniature zephyrs through RE-ANIMATOR, the fifth fiber-optic fancy by Mancunian mamzers Everything Everything. If the whir in your skull by now sounds a bit like a cat making a cello out of a cheese grater, here’s a company of architects and agitators who made music about what might become of our minds if/when everything went pear-shaped long before it was rationally hip to do so. Well it’s 2020, tribe. And everything short of everything has gone about as fat-bottomed fruity as anyone’s wildest hallucinations – and how! Fortunately, we have Cottonopolis creatures to the rescue with this daredevil dance into the donnybrook – and not a moment too soon.
Tracked in a December 2019 fortnight, with the invigilating insights of none other than John Congleton helming the production, RE-ANIMATOR comes to you via AWAL, and is subsequently free of inert industry ornamentation. The equation for creation here appears as follows: self-legation + creative license through liberated licensure = no photoshop needed in this kind of handsome. Overeager audiophiles get so caught up swooning over King Congleton’s deft handling of Sunship Balloon or Bully that they like to forget/overlook the much larger graffiti mural on his wall of amazeballs street cred: that this is the same Dallas-bred dynamo who was once apprentice to the one-and-only Steve Albini back at Electrical Audio in Chicago.
Why does that matter? Because the Albini way is what gave you everything your ear loved best about the size meets simplicity of those early Nirvana and Pixies records. What Congleton took from exposure to that expert ethicist was the ability to hear and capture the right sound the first time – a kind of dexterity threatened by deleatur in the world of production engineers today, and a concealed parentage that will be sharply in your cochlear focus by the time you reach “Violent Sun,” RE-ANIMATOR’s on-the-boil closing track. John Congleton is an endangered South African gnu in a room full of preening batboys, and Everything Everything is that nearly-extinct kind of freewheeling intelligentsia with the stones to make the most of his proximity.
In Texas, there is an old, oft-cited colloquial saying: “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” With five Ivor Novello nominations combined with both the first and last installments of their four-album catalog prior to RE-ANIMATOR being Mercury Prize shortlisted – that would be 2010’s Man Alive and 2017’s A Fever Dream, respectively – Everything Everything was in need of no soundboard sorcerer to bring forth their characteristic insoluble truth, spoken in hexameters and blown through a synthy shofar. This is a colossally talented, thoughtful group of lads who do not have to pay for preferment, radio or otherwise. What they did need, however, was something Congleton was in a uniquely powerful position to provide: a heavy-handed (all puns intended) reminder at the controls of the reason why Jean Luc Godard said “every edit is a lie.” Having admitted to outgrowing a tendency toward over-layering or hyper-designing songs in the past, Everything Everything is placing the emphasis this time around on songs as stand-alone entities. Congleton’s fastidious ear did not just shellac their record in samizdat cool, it also perhaps kept them from becoming the musical mirror to Stanislawa Pryzbyszewska, the Polish playwright whose obsessive efforts to perfect her play about Robespierre more or less killed her.
This is not to undermine the marmalade-dropping death toll that preceded RE-ANIMATOR’s release. Everything Everything lost an entire storage unit of their most treasured, story-making gear when the old Victorian mill wherein they had housed their equipment burned to the ground earlier this year in a fitting kickoff to official lockdown. A sickening loss in the vein and style of a mass stranding of whales (and with all that sort of fitful helplessness too), this burnt offering containing the mechanisms of their earliest career, guitars given them by grandparents, and other ineffable tontines apparently appeased the hawkish gods that would come to alight on RE-ANIMATOR. The fire became a Dionysian détournement befitting the band’s name, as well as the formal animus guiding the stories in these songs. RE-ANIMATOR is all bright clashes that somehow match, a lyrical game of Apples to Apples for the Cards Against Humanity crowd.
The Everything Everything chaps have always been inhabitants of a grassy utopia wherein the faces of all revelers would overbalance if they got even a millimeter longer. All four of their albums leading up to RE-ANIMATOR feel masterminded like one of Roselee Goldberg’s fertility rituals – live eels, women in vagina cloaks, and men in chaps being on the docket for any ordinary, yawn-worthy Tuesday. Jonathan Higgs (vocals, guitars), Jeremy Pritchard (bass), Alex Robertshaw (guitars, keyboards), and Michael Spearman (drums) are ever the dramedic skitmeisters making watchwords and golden targets of that which most puts them (and us) into a palsy of fear. But these are merely a few ingratiating reasons for respecting Everything Everything. Outright admiring them comes on like long legs in a short dress once you realize they are actually writing neurotic, cerebral love letters to nocturnal emotions you felt as recently as this sentence, be you in a brothel or a boardroom.
Jonathan Higgs has long pioneered the videos for the band himself, many of which ooze the same sort of opaquely ominous molder as Genesis’ ideologue-laden, whistleblower “Land of Confusion,” the same universal worries wearing different masks of rubbery hore. It is perhaps helpful that we have all been living in an alternate dimension of poisoned kings and murderous gods this year. It is a world not at all novel to the sonic palette of Everything Everything, and one in which the circus strongman characters, writ large in corrosive celebrity and wearing envenomed crowns, that riddle RE-ANIMATOR parade as would trophy-lords through a hunting emporium. Opening track “Lost Powers” sounds backlit with digital church bells, if there had been any on the Canopic Way. Its admonitory refrain, “Come on / You only lost your mind,” the bang-on jumper stencil of our collective year inside our makeshift asylums. “Big Climb” will, quite literally, make you get up to check that iTunes hasn’t shuffled to Peter Gabriel without your permission. This song is an enormity of reference-riches so divine as to almost feel depraved if one is of the more auditorily austere strain – which, thankfully for my ears here, I am decidedly not. From its Bowie-esque hallway of harmony to its bit of Bauhaus, “Big Climb” is the belle of the ball – though we can all rather hope that is not the crystal ball the standout lyric in this tune has us all dying inside. Well played, you Akashic gents.
“It Was a Monstering” chums a cauldron of moral sharks with heinous, hated, or otherwise hardened characters, both real and imagined. All forms of disfigurement are covered here, the song rocketing through horror glyphs of every ulterior type of human experience imaginable – from Merseyside’s infamous “Purple Aki”, the Bizarro muscle toucher, to the internet’s onerous Slenderman, and on to England’s Granite Man triathlon enrollees. While everyone from Lady Gaga to Jay Z to Rihanna/Eminem have addressed the notion of tarrying nightcrawlers in a pop format before, Everything Everything’s approach is a villain edit done in velour. The incitements to internal riot will be the “cherry on your coffin” even if you are already dead.
If you do nothing else with the rest of humanity’s imminent downfall, check out “Arch Enemy” for being your first and last chance to hear an ode to a fatberg-god inspired by the chords of Miserere, the 17th century Allegri composition. The fact that the narrator of this song is one of those oh-so-sincere believers of every QAnon-type, science-denialism-ish conspiracy theory ever devised by the rabid rabbits of Reddit just makes it that much more luxe.
First single “In Birdsong” also cannot be missed under any circumstances, the video its own kind of mandatory for being shot someplace you first think is a psychedelic, liquefied Dune, but is in fact revealed by song terminus to be the body of a dead fox – hearkening breezily back, whether intentionally or not, to the profile of that same creature, half-submerged in pink, on the cover image for Man Alive. Circle of life? Full circle? Carousel of canker? Choose your own adventure. The beauty here is how deeply and intrinsically English is the pragmatism and self-deprecating humor with which Everything Everything broach even the bleariest subjects and spin gangrene into gaffe. Their third rail wit is the oculus streaming light on all the roiling stupefaction and meandering malaise that RE-ANIMATOR unflinchingly depicts, and these fellows make sport out of subject matter that, at surface glance, may seem to some about as side-splitting as sedation anesthesia.
“Violent Sun” is RE-ANIMATOR’s transversal closer, but thinks it is dawn dancing like billyo. This is perhaps because it was explicitly fashioned to be the last song of the night, an anything-but-knackered knockout of a tune made for gathering up the last, lingering effects of that lovely liquid courage so dutifully sloshed and aiming it at whatever is left undone on your wish list for the evening. The fact that the band are all wearing Devo-hat-red jumpsuits and playing their actual carbonized instruments from that ferine fire in the video leaves you no choice but to embrace the smoke taint in your own hair and remember that your anorak could double as a parachute if it really had to.
So many people think of cinders as merely what is left after a fire, and those people find only the sodomy in soot. Everything Everything is a band that instinctually sees the orange under the ash – and more importantly knows, and can act upon, what that amber glow means. This termagant tips her wing to any band that non-ironically names “wonderment” as the Sally rod shaping the undercurrents of an album, and a group that recognizes that embers are, by nature, still burning is the kind that must be kept. Whether you are a person who reads into serendipity or not, you would be remiss not to appreciate and examine the way that RE-ANIMATOR is symbolically situated as the fifth offering by a band with sight like that.
Numerologically, five is the number associated with the planet Mercury, which is associated with the Greek God Hermes, the messenger. Fives in ancient tarot suggest both problems and solutions. The five-pointed star of Christian lore, otherwise known as the pentacle, is famously synonymous with the holiness of mankind – its upturned image equally notorious for suggesting ties to the depiction of Baphomet, representation of all our darker inclinations. In Celtic lore, the four points of that same star represent the four elements, and the fifth is that of the spirit or godhead.
So, RE-ANIMATOR, like the principle forming one of its underlying questions about binaries, is in possession of two, highly distinct faces – that of the phoenix fire always required of true rebirth, and that of the Frankensteinian fandango with the living dead you’ve got to do every day in order to get there. The five fingers on a hand. The Circle of Fifths. Track seven, “Lord of the Trapdoor”, is even written in 5/4 time and changes key in the middle of its primary chord sequence. The splits, divides, and schizophrenias projected by most people onto ideas larger than themselves. How all of this relates to the strange juxtaposition of the right-now, in which so much of fathomless, inexpungible significance is going on in the world whilst an equal-or-greater amount of enforced, presumably temporary inactivity remains in play for all of the things that matter most to human cohesion. Ponder.
England’s Second City has forever enjoyed a certain hostile acclaim for furnishing the world a steady cavalcade of the best bereavement counselors in the history of the music business. The Smiths really couldn’t give less of a care about your broken heart or its rat-bait reasons, but they can damn sure sing it back to you in Herodian silver and make your paroxysms of grief look like an inviolate dance. God bless the Gallagher brothers until the end of time for taking their antiphonal cutlass with such delicious brutality to all that passes for class in this world but is really just the cushy corpulence of social syllogism. Happy Mondays were generally anything but, and The Stone Roses sang a form of sadistic reflexology out of their listeners, wherein the most orchestral chimes and fairy bells were only ever tolling your tears. Manchester boys, as a whole, will make you swiftly remember and fully reckon with the fact that it was a working-class lift boy in a hotel elevator (and his disarmingly cool, looking-a-bit-slept-on jacket) that first inspired Coco Chanel to all that she would create, brandish, and reign supreme over. It is from this eschatological hot copy that Everything Everything derive, and their spyrogyric semaphores are, as ever, the balm that is needed.
Once you arrive at the philosophical understanding that contradictions are not opposites, but fraternal twins, enlightenment about a great many elements of being a person is just round the corner. It’s around that very corner that RE-ANIMATOR torridly awaits you. There actually is no Boundary Commission between the fraught and the snazzy in life, and Everything Everything is the Upright Citizen’s Brigade of all that is defective, jettisoned, and pilfered about being alive at this point in time – or ever, really. They are the only band I am aware of that could make the politics of organ transplant seem hilarious. These may have been party tricks before to some; now they are mood-control necessities for most. Snag RE-ANIMATOR post haste if you are the sort of person (and goodness knows I am) that appreciates a herd of hearts running rampant through the Marylebone Cricket Club, armloads of damning papyri from the future in tow, singing “olly olly oxen free” every sordid step of the way.