Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures
Any astute indie fan will be aware of Maximo Park and their rise to considerable fame (Mercury nomination and all that) a couple of years ago. Anyone who didn't have the good fortune to get their paws on A Certain Trigger is in luck, the band returning to their vocation with successor Our Earthly Pleasures. Worth the wait? Well, it's safe to say Hard-Fi can return to the day jobs in Staines; this is the only second album you need to hear from a popular indie-rock band who hit the big time in 2005.
If you have ears, you would have already heard single of the year (?) Our Velocity. Taking off from where Apply Some Pressure left off, its zigzag guitars and chugging synths propel at least three vocal hooks that won't leave your head for weeks on end, all of this topped off by a trademark charismatic performance from frontman Paul Smith. What of the rest of the album, though? Well, it's a belter. The My Sharona guitars of Girls Who Play Guitars launch us into the record but there's a veritable Grinch-sized loot bag of surprises laying in wait. Smith spoke of this album being a lot heavier than the debut so I was surprised to find it's a lot less frantic - to my ears, at least - than that record. You still get their boredom-defying multiple choruses and ramshackle guitar - even ramshackle, cod-theatrical keys on the intricate Russian Literature - but none of the tracks sound like they're needlessly rushing to get to their final destination. A number of them are even distinctly melancholic, highlight Books From Boxes retaining Duncan Lloyd's choppy guitars but giving precedence to a yearning melodic vocal and slowed-down tempo. The aforementioned 'heaviness' probably refers to Pixies producer Gil Norton's fine-tuning of their already layered sound.
Meanwhile, lyrical concerns rarely veer from the politics and emotional fallout of modern romantic entanglements - see the tears 'n' handclaps of By the Monument and the drama-rama of Karaoke Plays - or wry observations about modern life in general. The Unshockable is an example of the latter, taking the swagger of Kaisers but adding a more nuanced wit to create a comment on our cynical culture. Despite there not being much variation in topic, Smith's lyrics help carry even their best songs, adding extra verve to the mix with lines such as 'We used to talk about boys with missing spines'. Hit-in-waiting A Fortnight's Time takes the wordplay to the extreme, Smith rhyming 'hypothetical' with not just 'alphabetical' but 'theoretical' and 'dialectical' as well - the cheeky scamp! They get away with it though, proving to be charming without sacrificing their imbued geekiness. Who couldn't fail to love a band that finish proceedings with Sandblasted and Set Free, which is bookended by string sections and apparently inspired by a trip to the Tate Modern, and the endearing Parisian Skies? They've already pretty much bagged single of the year. Album of the year? It's very possible.